1980s were a decade of many cultural phenomenon such as the teen angst film,
the splatter horror film, the zombie films, and of course the teen sex comedy.
Bob Clark’s Porky’s (1981) was a huge
success both financially and artistically. To this day it’s still one of the funniest
movies ever made. Many of today’s best-known actors cut their teeth in such
fare: Tom Hanks attended an out-of-control Bachelor
Party (1984) and even Johnny Depp and Rob Morrow checked into a Private Resort (1985). Stanley Donen,
best known for directing Singin’ in the
Rain (1952), Funny Face (1957), Charade (1963), and Arabesque (1966), followed up the boring and disastrous Saturn 3 (1980) with Blame It on Rio, a peculiar entry in his
otherwise illustrious career. Jennifer (Michelle Johnson) is a pulchritudinous seventeen-year-old
who lusts after her father Victor’s (Joseph Bologna) best friend Matthew
(Michael Caine), a man roughly twenty-five years her senior (in reality there
is a thirty-two year difference between Caine and Johnson). The situation can
only be characterized as “creepy” and “inappropriate” since she has known him
her whole life and refers to him as “Uncle Matthew”.
the start we know that Matthew and his wife Karen (Valerie Harper) are
estranged when Karen drops a bombshell that she’s going on vacation by herself which
forces Matthew and their daughter Nikki (Demi Moore) to fly to Rio by
themselves with Victor and Jennifer. Almost from the outset Jennifer is pining
for Matthew, hitting the beach in nothing but a bikini bottom, her abundant
assets in full display to the dismay of her father. Despite Matthew’s vehement
protests, she insists that she loves him and only wants to be with him. Men her
own age simply don’t appeal to her. It becomes obvious by the film’s end that
Matthew is starting to fall for her (he’s still married to Karen), but one of
the biggest problems with the film is its characterization of Jennifer. Ms.
Johnson, who was hired by Mr. Donen following his discovery of her in W magazine, portrays Jennifer as she was
written: immature and unstable. By the film’s end, Jennifer commits a truly
awful act that is glossed over in the standard Hollywood fashion. It turns out
that she may be a little more dangerous than Matthew ever would have imagined.
Rio, which opened on Friday, February 17, 1984 just after
Valentine’s Day (yes, 34 years ago, Good Heavens), boasts a fairly provocative
advertising campaign featuring a woman’s rear view donning a bikini and it
became frequent viewing on cable television following its theatrical run. The
film is a loose remake of the 1977 French film Un Moment D'égarement (In a Wild Moment) by Claude Berrie, made years
before he made Jean de Flourette and Manon des Sources, which director Donen
and his then-wife Yvette Mimieux had seen and decided to option for a remake. Ironically,
it was made yet again in 2015 with Vincent Cassel and François Cluzet and
directed by Jean-François Richet and retained the original titre français.
Time/Life has been releasing a treasure trove of golden oldies relating to classic TV series. The latest comprises of four episodes of "The Jackie Gleason Show" that have been unseen since their original air dates in 1968-69. Gleason had become an icon by the early 1950s. His variety show for CBS was a national sensation and it was on there that he introduced "The Honeymooners" as an occasional sketch of varying lengths. He would later turn the scenario into a classic stand-alone sitcom that lasted for thirty nine glorious episodes. Gleason had numerous incarnations of his variety series. By the mid-1960s, he was still as king at CBS, which also laid claim to Ed Sullivan's equally popular variety show. Gleason used his clout to relocate his show to Miami Beach ("The sun and fun capital of the world!", he would assure his audience every week.) Gleason's love affair with the city helped increase tourism and paved the way for a burgeoning film and TV industry there. He always assured his audience that they were the greatest in the world, and it's hard to argue with that. Even his lamest sketches and jokes on the variety show bring down the house. A one man show business powerhouse, Gleason also succeeded on the big screen, in stage productions and also as a composer and conductor of romantic tunes that saw his albums improbably sell millions. Gleason revived "The Honeymooners" in the latest incarnation of his variety series, albeit with the roles of the female characters were recast. Gone were the beloved Audrey Meadows who played Alice, the wife of Gleason's Ralph Kramden. So too was Joyce Randolph replaced as Trixie, wife of Ralph's best friend, Ed Norton (Art Carney). In their place were Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean. Again, the "Honeymooners" sketches would vary in length but were a key ingredient in maintaining Gleason's high ratings.
The Time/Life release showcases "The Honeymooners" in three of the episodes. Gleason, like Howard Hawks, was unapologetic about recycling plots from his earlier works. Thus, one of the "Honeymooners" sketches is a loose remake of an episode from the 1950s in which Ralph mistakes a dog's dire health report from a veterinarian for his own diagnosis. The sketches are reasonably funny but the recasting of they key roles of the wives simply doesn't work very well, as we are so used to seeing Meadows and Randolph in these roles. Also, the cramped Kramden apartment looks cavernous on a Miami soundstage in color. The rest of the variety show episodes follow a pattern: Gleason is introduced and strolls on stage, dressed to the nines and looking like a million bucks. He chain smokes cigarettes as he jokes with the audience, then participates in bantering with his first guest. On these programs, Red Buttons appears in three of these opening acts with Gleason. Other guests include Frankie Avalon singing a kitschy version of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", Milton Berle in a long, belabored comedy bit with Gleason that seems endless and unfunny, Phil Silvers in a rare stand-up appearance, future "Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson, Edie Adams, Morey Amsterdam, Jan Murray, and, most amusingly, Nipsey Russell and an impossibly young George Carlin. The humor is clean and mainstream. Despite the tumultuous political situation going on during this period, there are just a few lightweight cracks about outgoing President Johnson and incoming President Nixon. The most politically incorrect jokes pertain to Gleason's penchant for self-deprecating remarks about his girth Today, he wouldn't be allowed to refer to himself as fat, but would probably have to say he's "vertically challenged." The episodes don't have consistent running times because the famed June Taylor Dancers, who performed on every show, are nowhere to be found, presumably due to rights issues- although they are mentioned in every introduction. The quality of the episodes is very good and one is impressed to realize just how few commercials viewers were subjected to in the good old days. Today, a show seems to consist primarily of ads with a few breaks for entertainment content. Although much of the humor in this set is rather dated and predictable, it is admittedly irresistible to watch all these great talents at various stages of their careers. We don't have variety shows any more in the traditional sense and we certainly don't have anyone of the stature of Jackie Gleason, who was a true "Man for All Seasons".
The late Joe Sarno was a pioneer in the "art" of producing, writing and directing New York sexploitation films. What set Sarno apart from many of his peers is that he attempted to bring a degree of integrity to his work by providing reasonably compelling story lines. This was especially true in the 1960s when the mainstreaming of adult films was becoming the norm in big cities, even as rural America was seemingly in a frenzy to do battle with the people who made them. Vinegar Syndrome has released a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD of one of Sarno's most ambitious projects, "Red Roses of Passion". Filmed in New York in late 1966, the film had a checkered theatrical release over the next couple of years. The B&W film is unusual for adult fare of the era because it delves into a plot that centers on the supernatural. Carla (Patricia McNair) is a rebellious young woman who is living with her cousin and aunt. She is bored to death by her aunt's conservative lifestyle and her cousin's plain vanilla boyfriend, who is always held up as the epitome of the responsible man to have in your life. Carla certainly wants a man in her life...seemingly any man but each time she sneaks a potential lover back to her room, her aunt thwarts her plans for an erotic evening. Carla's friend Enid convinces her to visit a fortune teller she has been frequenting, Martha. Carla complies and is suitably impressed when Martha is able to divulge personal information about Carla she could not possibly have known otherwise. Still, Martha is a strange one: humorless, dominating and demanding. Carla realizes that Martha is the mistress of the Cult of Pan, an erotic secret society that meets to engage in sex rites. A group of young women don see-through lingerie and indulge in all sorts of exotic rituals culminating in sipping "The Wine of Pan" and rubbing roses on each other. The combination of the two rituals brings the women to orgasmic pleasure before they offer themselves to "Pan"- who is, in reality, Martha's creepy brother who hides behind a curtain until it's time to preside over an orgy in which he is the only male. When no other women are around, Pan considers his own sister to be fair game.
In a scenario worthy of a "Twilight Zone" episode, Carla asks Martha if she can do anything to mitigate her aunt and cousin's prudish behavior. Martha instructs her to put some drops of Pan's Wine into their tea, which she does. Soon, a mysterious messenger arrives delivering a single rose to her aunt, who immediately begins rubbing it all over her body in a sex-crazed frenzy. Her daughter is appalled- until she gets the urge to do the same. Before long, the women are bonafide nymphomaniacs. Worse, they compete with each other to seduce the delivery man, who is, in fact, Pan. At one point mom and daughter engage in a rolling cat fight, clad only in their bras and panties. Before long they are having threesomes with men and trawling the back alleys to have sex with any available male. The action spills over back into their home where orgies become regular occurrences in their living room, giving an all new meaning to what a shag rug really means. Carla, meanwhile, is suffering pangs of guilt. She tells Martha she never meant to ruin the women's lives and pleads to have the spell broken. Martha said she can do so- but only if Carla agrees to be one of Pan's sex slaves forever.
After falling under Pan's spell, mother and daughter are compelled to compete with each other for lovers.
"Red Roses of Passion" isn't a hardcore sex film but it's content was pretty edgy for 1966- especially with scenes of mom and daughter both seducing the same lover (even "The Graduate"'s Benjamin didn't manage that with Mrs Robinson and her daughter at the same time.) The Satanic aspect of the script makes for a genuinely entertaining experience, thanks in no small part to the crisp cinematography of Anthony Lover (that's his real name. Honest.) One must view a film like this in context. Sarno had virtually no money, no professional actors and had to confine most of the shooting to interiors because the complications of filming on the streets of New York were too fraught with difficulties. Some of the performances are predictably amateurish but others are surprisingly effective. Sarno kills plenty of time by lingering too long on some of the rituals of the scantily clad women flaying each other with single stem roses but in the aggregate the movie is an impressive achievement. I should also mention that the music (not credited) also adds to the atmosphere with a strain that sounds similar to "The Third Man Theme" used sporadically to good effect.
The only bonus feature is a video interview with Sarno biographer and friend Michael Bowen, who provides plenty of interesting detail about Sarno's prolific career and the early days of shooting adult films in New York.
The Vinegar Syndrome transfer is excellent and it's too bad Sarno isn't around to enjoy seeing a first class presentation of his impressive "B" movie.
This is a limited edition of only 2,000 units. Click here to order from Amazon.
Athena Video has released "The Rise of the Nazi Party", a three disc DVD set comprised of all ten episodes from the acclaimed British documentary series that was telecast in the USA under the title "Nazis: Evolution of Evil". The fascination with Adolf Hitler and his criminal regime seems to only increase with time. While the documentaries cover well-worn turf, what makes this presentation notable is that the narrative concentrates on the inner workings of the Nazi party and the interaction between its key figures. The series uses dramatic recreations of major events interwoven with an abundance of actual newsreel footage and photographs. Clearly, a sizable sum had been spent on production values. The series interweaves contemporary footage of German locations with the historical films. While the notion is somewhat innovative, the shifting between old and new scenes can be somewhat distracting. That's about the only gripe, however. "The Rise of the Nazi Party" is a fascinating look at how a group of misfits, scoundrels and sadists rose to dominate one of the world's great nations. The series begins with the aftermath of WWI and correctly points out that the greed of the victorious Allied nations ironically helped nurture the rise of right wing extremism practiced by Hitler. The Allies insisted that German pay reparations for the war and the notorious Treaty of Versailles placed such onerous financial burdens on the German people that it risked turning the entire nation into a Third World country. The staggering debt was seen as a cash cow, particularly by Britain and France, the Allied countries that had suffered the most from the conflict. (Incredibly, Germany only recently made the final payments on its war debt.) Because WWI was such a senseless conflict caused by so many vague factors, the German people resented having the entire blame placed on them. As the financial situation in Germany worsened, hyperinflation devalued the German mark to the point where a loaf of bread could cost millions. Simultaneously, as the documentary points out, the Germans suffered another indignity when France sent armed legions to Germany's industrial region to occupy the territory and appropriate the revenues from factories. It was amid such a period of crisis that Adolf Hitler first became known. A decorated hero in the war, Hitler resented the military brass that had signed the Treaty of Versailles and in some warped fashion believed that a cabal of influential Jews were behind the strategy. His inexplicable but rabid anti-Semitism would characterize the entire Nazi movement. Even in its dying days, Hitler had the Nazi regime allocate enormous resources to continue his attempts to exterminate an entire people.
The documentary traces Hitler's first association with fringe groups who were calling for an overthrow of the weak Weimar Republic, a democratic government that had been imposed by the Allies but which had lost the confidence of the German people. Within a short time, the charismatic Hitler becomes the leader of the dissidents and moves to unite the fractions among them into the National Socialist Party. His first attempt to take the nation in a violent coup fails and he is imprisoned. However, behind bars he turns himself into a martyr to his cause by writing his influential memoir, Mein Kampf. When he emerges from jail, Hitler realizes the way to power is to bide his time and go through legal means. The Nazis grow in numbers and in strength but the everyday German doesn't believe they can ever win national offices. They were wrong. During the pivotal election cycle, the average German is lethargic and stays home from the polls while Hitler's fanatical followers turn out in droves. The Nazis become a major factor in the German political landscape. Ultimately, Hitler is appointed Chancellor under the aging but beloved President, von Hindenburg. Knowing that taking action against this national icon would backfire, he bides his time until von Hinderburg's death. He then appoints himself supreme leader of the nation, citing the need for a strong man with extraordinary powers to take on the many crisis facing Germany. The German reichstag all but votes themselves out of any meaningful power beyond being a body of "rubber-stampers" for Hitler's legislation. Within a short period of time, Hitler makes good on his promises. He authorizes massive public work projects that not only wipe out unemployment but also result in the nation having the most modern road system in the world. Worker's wages are raised and the average person's living standards rise appreciably. Hitler becomes a beloved icon. However, the dark side of this success is Hitler's calculated ability to split the population into "us" and "them", the latter being "undesirable" minorities, especially the Jews. He passes the Nuremberg Laws that effectively deprive German Jews of all civil rights- and it only gets worse from there. By rewarding Aryans with a good lifestyle, he correctly gambles that the average German won't do much to protest the persecution of the Jews. By the time he is committing wholesale genocide, many Germans are repulsed but are powerless to stop him. Hitler's obsession for expanding Germany's borders into Czechoslovakia and Austria are achieved without firing a shot, despite having blatantly violated the Treaty of Versailles. However, he miscalculates the Allies with his invasion of Poland, as evidenced by France and England declaring war. Hitler's fate is ultimately sealed when he makes the ill-advised decision to declare war on America in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He is now fighting an industrial giant with seemingly unlimited resources. This factor, coupled with his betrayal of the Soviet Union, it is only a matter of time before Germany is defeated.
The documentary also explores Hitler's love life (or lack thereof) and his obsession with his half-niece, who ultimately committed suicide, possibly because of his dictatorial control over her life. The show also delves into the rise of Hitler's top right hand men: Himmler, Goering, Goebbels and others. Among them is Ernst Rohm, an early supporter of Hitler who built his private body guard, the Brownshirts, into a major military force that virtually equaled the German army. In a sign of the backbiting that would characterize the Nazi brass, Hitler is manipulated by others into believing that Rohm is planning a coup. Thus, Hitler personally leads a raiding party on Rohm and his top men at a vacation resort where they are holding a conference. (It was actually a ruse for Rohm and his homosexual lovers to engage in sexual activities that Hitler felt were appalling for a true Aryan to participate in.) He orders his old friend to be executed. It would serve as a boiler plate for the inner rivalries and paranoia among his confidants that would dominate is reign as Fuhrer. (In the dying days of the Reich, both Himmler and Goering would betray Hitler by each presenting himself as the new Fuhrer and hoping to sue for peace.)
The purpose of the series is not to present the history of WWII. Certain major elements are covered in detail: the Holocaust, the disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union, the attempted assassinations against Hitler, the manipulation of Chamberlain at Munich, etc. However, other key events such as the invasion of Poland, the Hitler/Stalin pact and the fall of France are barely mentioned. The episodes are mostly concerned with the psyche of the Nazi brass. All of it is set to the pitch perfect narration of Joseph Kloska, who provides the necessary tone of gravitas. (Inexcusably, none of the actors who are seen throughout the entire series merit even a mention in the end credits.) There are the usual "talking heads" who provide analysis of the subject matter and these scholars are particularly interesting throughout. The final episode, "Aftermath", is one of the most compelling as it explores the breakout of the Cold War in the immediate aftermath of Germany's defeat. The Nuremberg Trials are covered in considerable detail and the episode bluntly addresses the decision by the United States to recruit notorious Nazi war criminals and whitewash their pasts in order to benefit from the technological knowledge these people had in the areas of science and espionage. (Wernher von Braun, who developed the first rocket technology, had the blood of thousands of slave laborers on his hands yet his indisputably built America's space program.)
The entire series is compelling throughout and will provide new perspectives for even the most devout WWII scholars. The set includes a booklet that features biographies of key Nazis along with a useful timeline of their rise and fall from power.
If there is a lesson to be learned from all of this, it's that when people in democracies are too lethargic to vote or become involved in the political process, the worst elements of society may one day seize power.
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I initially saw "Cops and Robbers" on its theatrical release in 1973. Strangely, I retained no memories of the film whatsoever except a few bars of the catchy title theme song by Michel Legrand. I say "strangely" because, upon watching the film's Blu-ray debut through Kino Lorber Studio Classics, I found the movie to be terrifically entertaining. Perhaps it's because terrifically entertaining films were a dime a dozen back in the 1970s that this particular movie didn't resonate with me at the time. Nevertheless, watching it today, it has a great many pleasures, not the least of which is two leading actors who were not familiar faces at the time, thus allowing the viewer to not have any preconceptions about their mannerisms or previous roles. The film was shot in New York City during a long period of urban decay. Poverty and crime were rising and the infrastructure was crumbling as the city came perilously close to declaring bankruptcy. It's a far cry from today's New York but at the time one benefit of all this chaos was that it inspired filmmakers to take advantage of the somber landscape and use it as fodder for some memorable films. Michael Winner's "Death Wish" and Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" administered the cinematic coup de grace, painting a picture of Gotham as a foreboding urban jungle. This was always overstated, of course, as there was never a period in which New York was in danger of losing its reputation as the most exciting city on earth. However, the grime and grit certainly did much to tarnish its reputation for a good number of years.
Among the films that represented this era was the little-remembered "Cops and Robbers", which is an offbeat entry in the genre of "dirty cop" movies that became popular during the 1970s. The twist is that, unlike the exploits of larger-than-life cops such as Dirty Harry or Popeye Doyle, this film centers on the day-to-day frustrations of two every day patrolmen - Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna)- trying to cope with the frustrations of risking their lives for a salary of $43 a day. We watch as they car pool from their cramped suburban housing units to Manhattan, a daily trek of seemingly endless traffic jams that they must endure in the sweltering heat. (Yes, kiddies, most of us working class clods didn't have air conditioning in our cars in the 1970s.) Their familiar grind includes wrestling with mentally unstable people, watching fellow officers getting shot and having an ungrateful populace take them for granted. With wives and kids to provide for, they are at the end of their ropes. One day, Joe casually confesses to Tom that he recently walked into a liquor store in full uniform and held the place up at gunpoint. He only got a couple of hundred dollars, but was amazed at how easy it was to get away with- largely because everyone assumed the culprit was someone disguised as a New York City police officer. After all, although corruption was widespread even in this post-Serpico period, it was mostly carried out discreetly through payoffs and freebies. New York City cops did not commit overt robberies while on the job. Tom is initially appalled, but is also mesmerized by the prospect of using their positions of trust to carry out an even grander robbery: one that would put them on East Street for the rest of their lives. Using a disguise, Tom visits the domain of a local mob kingpin and discloses he and his partner are genuine members of the NYPD- and they want his help to work out a scam that will net both cops $1 million each. They are told to rob untraceable securities in the amount of $10 million, for which they will be paid a $2 million "commission". Tom and Joe create a daring plan to gain access to a major finance company on Wall Street on the very day that the Apollo 11 astronauts are receiving a ticker tape parade. Knowing the employees will be distracted, they enter the premises on the premise of checking out a minor matter. They bluff their way into the inner sanctum of the company president and hold him hostage while his secretary escorts Joe to a vault and gets the appropriate securities. As is the case in most good caper movies, things initially go well but unexpected snafus arise that threaten the cops' getaway. To say more would be to spoil the fun but suffice it to say that the climax of the movie finds them trying to collect the $2 million from the mob in the middle of Central Park- where both sides try to double-cross each other. The result is a wild car chase seems to doom not only the cops' getaway but the cops themselves.
Director Aram Avakian, working with producer Elliott Kastner, makes the most of the New York locations, eschewing studio sets for real places. This adds immeasurably to the realistic feel of the production. Both Joe Bologna and Cliff Gorman were exceptionally well cast and are completely convincing as urban cops. Bologna was starting to ride high on the heels of he and his wife Renee Taylor's success with "Lovers and Other Strangers" and "Made for Each Other". Gorman was primarily known for his acclaimed stage performance as Lenny Bruce but also won kudos for his role in William Friedkin's 1969 film production of "The Boys in the Band". He's so good in this film, you wonder why major stardom eluded him. There is also an abundance of good character actors including Dolph Sweet, Joe Spinell and Shepperd Strudwick. The witty screenplay is the work of Donald E. Westlake, a noted crime novelist who would later turn his script for the film into a successful book. Westlake only makes one creative misstep. It is essential in most crime movies that feature charismatic cads as anti-heroes that their victims are established as villains who don't deserve the sympathy of the viewer. From the classic caper flick "The Sting" to the long-running British TV series "Hustle", the targets of the con men must always be deemed to be cads. In Westlake's screenplay, the victims of the errant cops are every day, working people. Joe's stickup of the liquor store (seen over the opening credits) terrorizes innocent people. Their protracted plan to rip off the Wall Street firm similarly puts non-criminals in harm's way (although Westlake throws in a twist that is designed to water down the victim's plight). Watching the film through a modern viewpoint, when police corruption is no longer considered to be an acceptable part of every day life, the movie's disturbing celebration of officers who are violating their sacred duty to protect the public seems more distasteful today than it did at the time of the film's release. Even viewed within the context of the era, we can certainly sympathize with the cops' frustrations, but their turning to crime makes a mockery of most police officers who resist taking that path. Nevertheless, if you can overlook the sociological factors and accept the film as pure entertainment, it works wonderfully well.
The Kino Blu-ray is top quality and includes the original trailer as well as an interview with the late Joe Bologna, who provides some witty and interesting insights into the making of the movie. There is also a trailer for the similarly-themed crime caper comedy "Bank Shot" starring George C. Scott. (also available from Kino Lorber).
Kino Lorber has released a DVD of the acclaimed 2014 German documentary "From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses", based on the book by Siegfried Kracauer and directed and written by Rudiger Suchsland. The film traces cinematic achievements during Germany's brief fling with democracy between the two world wars. In the aftermath of the nation's disastrous defeat in WWI, the Weimar Republic was established, bringing democratic reforms to the country. It was a tumultuous period. Germany was virtually bankrupt after the war and the Allies, particularly France and England, soaked the nation with onerous damages that made it seem almost impossible for the country to ever recover. A dual-class system arose with those who were economically well-off and those who were the working class tradesmen and women who would toil for long hours often under inhumane conditions just to survive day-to-day. It was during this troubled era that German cinema rose to grand heights with a new generation of filmmakers who advanced the medium from being one of mere entertainment to being a reflection of social problems and values. For the first time, the impoverished lower classes were being championed. Ultimately, things began to turn around and a middle class emerged but fate was to intervene. A banking crisis and massive inflation, combined with the shock effects of the 1929 Great Depression, took its toll on the workers. Socialist and communist filmmakers made stirring movies that advocated a rising of the masses in protest, much as Russia had done in 1917. Meanwhile, the rich remained largely unaffected and Berlin became the center of a creative renaissance the likes of which modern Europe had never experienced. The city drew millions of visitors from around the world to revel in the new-found freedoms. Seemingly everyone was partying and there were major achievements in the theater and film. Progressive values were reflected in those films, as Germany was now a society in which females were suddenly liberated to live lifestyles that would have previously been considered Hedonistic. Homosexuality was out of the closet and gays and lesbians could live openly. The new freedoms would not last for long, however. The economic turbulence reflected by "the masses" would cause the population to veer to the hard right and National Socialism. The rise of Hitler would result in the repression of artistic freedoms and being gay meant imprisonment or death. The tumultuous era was chronicled by Christopher Isherwood in his "Berlin Stories", which, in turn, would form the basis of "Cabaret".
Rudiger Suchsland's remarkable documentary (German language, English sub-titles) chronicles the rise and fall of the one brief shining moment in which such talents as Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau, Josef von Sternberg, Robert Siodmak and others revolutionized cinema and having it emerge as a major art form. The documentary affords us generous samples of the kinds of eye-popping visuals that are even more impressive today, given how primitive the tools were that these directors had to work with. Movies suddenly dealt with realistic issues, often in surrealistic ways. Some of the movies proved prescient regarding the fate that was in store for Germany. "Metropolis" chronicled the angry rise of oppressed masses in a futuristic society while "M"- ostensibly a crime thriller about the hunt for a serial killer of children- displayed brutish justice meted out by gangs who put the accused on trial in kangaroo courts. Not all cinematic fare was grim during this era, however. Hollywood-style musicals became popular and there emerged a new genre that was distinctly German: the "Mountain Films", natured-based stories that capitalized on the nation's vast beauty and the obsession with physical fitness. With the rise of National Socialism, many of the most talented German filmmakers saw the writing on the wall and emigrated to America, where they had long, fruitful careers. When Hitler assumed power, he engaged in the same tactics dictators and would-be dictators follow today: attacking and later controlling the free press and then turning the media over to propagandists who immediately quashed the great cinematic achievements of the Weimar era. Now films would reflect the state-run point of view and would be used to suppress and oppress society's "undesirables". The documentary only briefly covers the ascendancy of Hitler and his henchmen, instead concentrating on the movies made in the Weimar years. It's a remarkable film that serves not only as warning about the fragility of freedom and democracy, but also as a vehicle to experience these great works of art, most of which are fortunately available on home video.
The Kino Lorber release has an excellent transfer and contains the trailer for the documentary.
Premature Burial (1962) is the third of Roger Corman’s eight
film cycle of Technicolor extravaganzas loosely based on the writings of the
legendary masters of literary mysteries Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.Corman had previously successfully partnered
with Samuel J. Arkoff and James Nicholson of American International Pictures, the
trio having mutually enjoyed a tidy profit on their relatively modest
investment on two earlier Poe efforts, Fall
of the House of Usher (1960) and The
Pit and the Pendulum (1961).Corman
and the producers would eventually come to loggerheads regarding a fair and
equitable split of the The Pit and the
Pendulum box-office receipts – a not unforeseeable dispute as Arkoff,
Nicholson and Corman were all notorious for their penny-pinching proclivities.
In Corman’s recollection both Usher
and Pendulum brought in nearly two
million each in rentals on a “negative cost of some $200,000.”Corman was rankled by AIP’s tough contract clauses
so, as a true independent filmmaker, decided to finance his third Poe adaptation
through Pathé Lab who, in Corman’s own words, had “helped back some AIP
productions and did their print work.”
This time around Hollywood’s most industrious maverick would
lose his gambit.Upon learning of
Corman’s brash decision to leave the fold, AIP chose to leverage some economic
muscle.They contacted Pathé and threatened
to pull all of the company’s subsequent lab work from them should the deal with
Corman proceed.Arkoff and Nicholson then
brazenly and effectively bought out Pathé’s interest in Corman’s new project, this
time a liberal retelling of Poe’s short story of 1844, The Premature Burial.
Premature Burial is a visually stunning film and a worthy
successor to Corman’s two earlier efforts.There’s absolutely no reason why it wouldn’t be as all three films share
several key behind-the-camera talents.The
most notable returnee is Director of Photography Floyd Crosby, on hand for his
third atmospheric rendering of a Poe film.This time around he works in perfect tandem with the Goth styling’s of
set designer/art director Daniel Haller.There are also some fresh faces on set as well.Film editor Ronald Sinclair took the cutting
reins from Anthony Carras on Poe film no. 3, with the lush orchestrations of
Ronald Stein replacing the more avant-garde and jazzy styling of Les Baxter.Corman’s assistant director on this new
project was a young and ambitious transplant from the east coast, Francis Ford
The single most crucial element missing from The Premature Burial is, of course, the
most obvious: Vincent Price.Stories
vary on Price’s non-participation in the project.Corman recollects that, upon learning he was
about to go rogue, “AIP, aware of my intentions, locked Vincent into an
exclusive contract.”Other film
historians discount this, noting that Price’s three film contract with AIP had already
ended with The Pit and the Pendulum.Price and his wife took off for Europe in the
spring of 1961 where he was to appear in two Italian peplums – a genre all the
rage in 1961.Though Milland turns in a
worthy, professional performance as the emotionally wrought and self-haunted Guy
Carrell in The Premature Burial, he
wasn’t able to capture the elegant, self-tortured mania that Vincent Price
easily brought to similar roles.When The Premature Burial brought in only
half the rentals following its release in the spring of 1962 – this extreme
financial fall-off despite having enjoyed the same budget as the two earlier
Poe adaptations - AIP wisely chose to bring Price back into the fold.The independent Price was happy to return as
he was offered a long-term, non-exclusive contract by AIP, thereby allowing him
to keep his options open.
Lorber has released Mario Bava’s “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” (1970) in a
handsome, restored Blu-ray edition as part of its extensive “Mario Bava
Collection.”The disc will please
devotees of the late Italian director, whose wide range of genre work is
evident in this and the fifteen other Blu-rays that Kino Lorber has released in
its series, from the celebrated Gothic trappings of “Black Sunday” (1960) to
the Bond-era burlesque of “Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs” (1966).Bava is revered by his enthusiasts as one of
the pre-eminent directors of horror and giallo in the 1960s Italian cinema, but
like other workaday filmmakers in the busy European studios of the time, he
made pretty much every kind of picture there was to make, riding successive
surges of popularity for horror, sword-and-toga epics, westerns, thrillers, and
sex comedies. “Roy Colt and Winchester
Jack” was the third of Bava’s three Italian Westerns -- a genre that paid the
bills, but one that Bava wasn’t especially fond of, as Tim Lucas notes in his
audio commentary for the Blu-ray.Of
Bava’s approach to “Roy Colt,” Lucas relates: “On the first day of shooting,
when he learned that no one was particularly enamored of the script, Bava threw
his copy into the nearest mud puddle and said, ‘Screw it, let’s have fun
the film, Roy (Brett Halsey) and Jack (Charles Southwood) are leaders of an
outlaw gang.The two partners split up
when Roy decides to try his fortune on the right side of the law.Going straight, he pins on a sheriff’s badge
and agrees to retrieve a cache of buried gold for Samuel (Giorgio Gargiullo), a
devious banker.In the meantime, Jack
continues to rob stages and saves a pretty Indian woman, Manila (Marilu Tolo),
from bounty hunters after she kills her abusive husband.Manila encourages Jack’s romantic advances
but shrewdly charges for her favors.Another outlaw, the Reverend (Teodoro Corra), follows the trail of
Samuel’s gold, and the storyline eventually settles into a familiar Spaghetti
Western pattern.The three rivals --
Roy, Jack, and the Reverend, with Manila as a fourth wild card -- alternately
help and double-cross each other to reach the promised riches first.
commentary suggests that “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” began as a
straightforward action script by Mario di Nardo, and then turned into a comedy
when Bava suggested that he and the actors “have fun instead.”Bava’s decision to send up his material may
have been partially influenced by the success of 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid,” but it also coincided with a fundamental change in the genre
itself.With the success of another 1970
Italian Western, Enzo Barboni’s “Trinity Is My Name,” the genre began to skew
from violent, sometimes operatic stories of revenge and betrayal to lowbrow
farces that were geared (it’s said) to the tastes of working-class audiences in
the poorer sections of Italian cities and towns.The staple elements of these Spaghetti
lampoons included slapstick brawls, rather cruel visual jokes ridiculing
physical and mental infirmities, childish sexual innuendo, and infantile
delight in gastric embarrassments.Dubbed prints of Barboni’s movie, its sequel, “Trinity Is Still My
Name,” and other comedy Spaghettis traveled overseas to drive-ins and
small-town theaters in the U.S., arguably preparing the way for Mel Brooks‘
wildly popular, fart-laden Western parody, “Blazing Saddles,” in 1974.“Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” incorporates
the usual characteristics of the comedy Spaghettis, notably in a rudely
gratuitous scene built around a gunslinger’s extreme facial and verbal
tics.More sophisticated audiences are
likely to squirm, but at that, thanks to Bava’s sure visual sense and a capable
cast, his film is easier to bear than most Spaghetti farces.Pictures like “It Can Be Done, Amigo” (1972),
“Life Is Tough, Eh Providence” (1972), “The Crazy Bunch” (1974), and “Shoot
First, Ask Questions Later” (1975) are guaranteed to try the souls of all but
the most dedicated genre fans.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition of “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” features a
superlative 2K restoration from the original 35mm negative.Other extras include the original Italian
voice track with English subtitles, a partial English track, and the
aforementioned commentary by Tim Lucas with a wealth of information about the
film, Bava, and Italian cinema in general.
Blue Underground’s double-feature Blu Ray issue of Code 7… Victim 5 and Mozambique is a generous release considering
the company chose to simultaneously issue both films as standalone DVDs.Both films are among the earliest big screen
efforts of notorious exploitation producer Harry Alan Towers.Both were adapted from Tower’s own
semi-original scenarios (under his usual pseudonym of “Peter Welbeck”) and both
were penned by the Australian screenwriter Peter Yeldham with British director Robert
Lynn at the helm.
Both men had been working in television and, like Towers,
were now gingerly testing the waters of the international movie business.The films, modest thrillers financed by
Tower’s UK Company “Towers of London,” nonetheless share a continental roster
of technicians and actors.The films are
serviceably entertaining as thrillers, but are most ambitious in conveying a
jet-setting ‘60s ambiance.The fact that
Towers brought his international crew to southern Africa to film is the most
notable feature of both efforts.
“Africa is changing,” the ruthless drug smuggler Da Silva
sighs to a shady Arabian client in Mozambique
(1964).“The best days are
gone.”Indeed they were… or soon would
be.Just as location shooting was being
completed on this fictional thriller set in the tiny, East African province of
Mozambique, a coalition of real-life indigenous anti-colonialists and communist
guerilla fighters were combining to upset centuries-long Portuguese rule.As a decade-long bloody civil war would soon
follow in the wake of the filming of this Technicolor/Technoscope drama, it’s unlikely
that any subsequent team of filmmakers from British or continental Europe would
be warmly welcomed in the years going forward.
The South African locations of this disc’s companion film
Code 7… Victim 5 are cosmopolitan and
glittering in presentation; conversely the photography of the plaintive Mozambique
countryside captures a far more sober and undeveloped region.Aside from breathless images capturing
beautiful oceanside views - sightlines unblemished by tourist constructions -
the countryside of Mozambique circa
1963 is revealed as poor and agricultural.
The two films offered on this disc do share similarities
aside from their exotic African settings.Not the least of these is that both films open with very public
assassinations of characters mostly tangential to the film’s plotlines.Code 7
opens with the daylight murder – by a team of menacing clown-faced assassins –
during Capetown’s New Year’s Eve Carnival parade.Mozambique
opens similarly with a mysterious assassination atop the winding, ancient stone
stairwells of old Lisbon.
American actor Steve Cochran plays Brad Webster, a down-on-his-luck Cessna
pilot.We first encounter Webster as he
trawls about Lisbon’s bleak waterfront in search of employment.His blacklisting as a pilot-for-hire is
understandable as his previous assignment didn’t go all that well.Both of his passengers were killed in a crash
of his piloted small craft, leaving Webster the lone survivor.
For better or worse, his fortunes change following a
desperate, alcohol fueled fight in a waterfront saloon.Faced with a probable sixty day jail sentence
for vagrancy and public fisticuffs, Lisbon authorities mysteriously offer Webster
an alternative.A certain Colonel Valdez
residing in Mozambique is looking to hire a small-craft pilot on the down
low.The police offer Webster one-way airfare
from Lisbon to their colonial territory should he choose to accept the deal.
He does.Once aboard
his Lufthansa flight to Mozambique,
the sweating heavily, PTSD-afflicted Webster meets the comely blond Christina
(Vivi Bach).Christina too,
coincidentally, was also sent a one-way ticket at the behest of the mysterious
Colonel Valdez.So begins an improbable
romance between this middle-aged and craggy American and a beautiful young
woman in her twenties.In truth, actor
Cochran is perhaps a bit too long-in-the-tooth to pull off this charade as a
dashing hero and paramour.
In the opening scene of Republic Pictures “The Man Who
Died Twice,” (1950) a car drives along a mountain road and two cops in a patrol
car remark that it’s nightclub owner T. J. Brennon (Don Megowan) passing by.
Next thing you know the car goes off a cliff and explodes in flames. Then a
woman (Vera Ralston) gets out of a cab in front of her apartment building and
looks up at the balcony where two men are fighting. She shrieks in horror as
one of the men comes plummeting down and lands on the sidewalk at her feet. Splat!
She watches as the other man climbs up a fire escape ladder to the roof. But
not before a third man appears on the balcony and the guy on the fire escape
shoots him. Vera Ralston faints from all the excitement and falls on the
pavement next to the fallen corpse.
The cops show up almost immediately, revealing that the
two dead men are members of the narcotics squad and the unconscious woman (whom
they just leave lying there on the concrete until the ambulance arrives) is
none other than Lynn Brennon, wife, now widow, of T. J. Brennon, the guy who
went over the cliff. All this in just the first few minutes of this low-budget
70-minute crime movie directed at a frantic pace by Joe Kane, veteran of
countless Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies., and penned by Richard C. Sarafian,
who would later be best known as the director of “Vanishing Point” (1971), the
ultimate car-chase movie.
“The Man Who Died Twice” is a pulpy story that borrows a
lot from other crime and gangster movies of that era. It’s a coincidence, I
suppose, that this film was released the same week as Don Siegel’s “The
Lineup,” but the similarities in the two films are pretty striking. The
McGuffin (Hitchcock’s term for the thing everybody’s after) in both films is a missing
stash of heroin. In both films, dangerous drug dealers want their drugs back
and will stop at nothing to get them. In both films two of the more interesting
characters are a couple of gunsels who arrive from out of town to get the goods
back for their employers and in both films the heroin is stuffed inside a doll.
It makes you wonder if Serafian and Stirling Silliphant, who wrote “The Lineup,”
had some kind of competition going to see who could turn out the better script
using the same story elements. Silliphant wins that one hands down.
The gunsels In “The Lineup,” are played by Eli Wallach
and Robert Keith. Gerald Milton and Richard Karlan handle the roles of Hart and
Santoni in “The Man Who Died Twice.” While not quite on a level with Wallach
and Keith, they do a good job as the two killers. Milton is particularly nasty in
a casual kind of way in a scene in their hotel room when he hears a cat meowing
outside the door. He goes out in the hall, picks it up and puts out on the
window sill and then shuts the window. Karlan yells, “Hey, what’s the matter
with you. It’s three stories down.” Milton keeps calling his wife back home only to be disturbed by the fact
that she’s never there when he calls. He tells Karlan that one time a bartender
pal gave him the number of a hot babe, if he ever wanted a good time. Half-drunk
he put the number in his pocket and didn’t look at it until the next day and
found it was his home phone number!
Vera Ralston as Lynn Brennon was only 35 at the time this
film was made but she looks tired and bored. She was an ice skating star back
in her native Czechoslovakia when Republic Studios chief Herbert J. Yates
brought her to the U.S. and tried to make her a star. She made over 20 features
for Republic but despite Yates’s efforts audiences did not really accept her, and
she quit acting after “The Man Who Died Twice.”
The leading man in this B-movie extravaganza is Rod
Cameron, who has about as much charisma as a side of beef. Better known for his
westerns, he plays Bill Brennon, T.J.’s brother, who had sent him a telegram
asking for help, which was unusual because he and Bill hadn’t spoken in 15
years. But you know how it is, when your brother sends you a wire saying he’s
in trouble, you gotta do something about it. Right?
Kino Lorber has released the 1968 espionage thriller "The High Commissioner" on Blu-ray. The film, which was titled "Nobody Runs Forever" in it's UK release, is significant in that it paired two charismatic leading men- Rod Taylor and Christopher Plummer- in a low-key but well-scripted tale that sustains interest throughout. The film is based on John Cleary's novel and presents some offbeat and refreshing elements for a spy movie made at the height of the James Bond-inspired phenomenon. Most refreshingly, the two protagonists are Australians, a rare instance in which heroes from "Down Under" are showcased in a non-Australian movie of the era. Taylor plays Scobie Malone, a tough-as-nails police officer in the Northern Territory who is content to fulfill his job of keeping order in the Outback and arresting small-time trouble makers. He is reluctantly assigned to travel to London for an unusual mission: to bring back the Australian High Commissioner, Sir James Quentin (Plummer) and have him stand trial on charges that he murdered his first wife many years before. When Scobie arrives in London, he realizes that the timing of his mission could not be more sensitive: Quentin is hosting an important diplomatic conference with African leaders in the hope of finalizing a major treaty that could affect the balance of power in the African continent. The world is watching as Quentin tries to iron out details to make the treaty a reality. When Scobie informs him of his assignment, Quentin seems curiously nonplussed about the nature of the charges against him- but he is quite concerned by the fact that his sudden absence from the conference would almost certainly cause the talks to collapse. He imposes on Scobie to give him a few additional days to sort out the final details on the treaty. Scobie takes an instant liking to Quentin and his adoring wife Sheila (Lilli Palmer), and agrees with the request. Scobie's cover story to Sheila is that he is simply acting as a bodyguard to Quentin, but she seems to suspect his real motive is more nefarious. When an attempt is made on Quentin's life, Scobie is instrumental in thwarting it. The two men ultimately bond as friends and Scobie begins to suspect that Quentin could not have possibly murdered his first wife. Why then is the Australian government convinced he had? More pressing is solving the problem of who is behind the assassination attempt on Quentin and who in his inner circle is a mole. It appears a shadowy organization feels threatened by the chances of the treaty succeeding- and wants to thwart it by killing Quentin.
"The High Commissioner" is a film that plays best if not examined in detail because there are plenty of loosely-developed plot points. It's never quite explained why Scobie was taken all the way from the Outback for this particular assignment. Surely the government could have found one equally capable law enforcement officer who was a bit more accessible. It also becomes clear that the plot to thwart the conference is just the "MacGuffin" in that it's never thoroughly explained who the bad guys are or why they feel threatened by Quentin's peace conference. Nor do we learn precisely what is being negotiated at the conference. What we do have are some intriguing characters including two of the most glamorous actresses of the period: Daliah Lavi, in full dangerous femme fatale mode as a seductive enemy agent and Camilla Sparv as Quentin's loyal secretary who holds a not-so-secret crush on him. While on assignment, Scobie allows himself to be seduced by Lavi (who wouldn't?) but remains chaste with Sparvi's character, so as to not impede his professional standing with the Quentins. The film moves along at a brisk pace under the direction of Ralph Thomas, who had recently helmed two other spy flicks- "Deadlier Than the Male" and "Agent 8 3/4" (aka "Hot Enough for June". ) Thomas showcases Taylor's rugged good looks by giving him Bondian opportunities to wear tuxedos and engage in plenty of mayhem. The film's climax takes place at Wimbledon, where the villains intend to assassinate Quentin by using a gun placed inside a television camera. The murder charges against Quentin come to a head in an emotional discussion Scobie has with Sheila, though her explanation for his innocence seems rather weak. The film builds to a fiery and explosive final scene that is undermined only shoddy special effects.
The best aspect of "The High Commissioner" is that it provides a good role for Rod Taylor, one of the most charismatic leading men of the 1960s. Taylor was usually cast as American or British characters because he had mastered both accents, but here he is allowed to talk like a native Australian, which, in fact, he was. Equally at home in posh cocktail parties or flailing away at the bad guys, Taylor was the epitome of the charming tough guy. Plummer also gets an interesting role though the character is never fully developed and plays second-fiddle to Taylor's. Nevertheless, he embellishes the much-besieged Quentin with quiet dignity even when narrowly dodging bombs and bullets. Lilli Palmer is especially poignant as Quentin's ever-faithful but long-suffering wife who is harboring a terrible secret that figures in the explosive climax. There is also an impressive supporting cast that includes Clive Revill as a butler whose allegiance may be in question, Calvin Lockhart as a handsome international man of mystery and an unrecognizable, black-haired Derren Nesbitt as a villain. The lush locations begin in Australia before moving to London, where director Thomas capitalizes on them. Interiors were shot at Pinewood Studios.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is up to the company's usual fine standards and includes the original trailer. Recommended.
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” is an
often-quoted line from John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” And if director
Walter Hill had stuck to that idea, his “Wild Bill” (1995) would be a great
movie, instead of a near miss. Unfortunately, he mixed legend with pure hogwash
and the result is a confusing hodgepodge of scenes connected only by the fact
that James Butler Hickok (Jeff Bridges) hated it when somebody messed with his
You know a director intends to make a “serious” western
when he starts the film out by showing the central character’s funeral. “Wild
Bill” begins not only with a funeral, but a funeral shot in high-contrast,
grainy black and white. In fact the film keeps switching from color to black
and white for numerous flash back scenes, depicting “events” from Bill’s early
life, some of which are complete fiction.
Attending the funeral are his on-again-off-again
sweetheart Calamity Jane (Ellen Barkin) and Charlie Prince (John Hurt), an
Englishman who has drifted out West for the excitement. Prince narrates the
story. The first act of “Wild Bill” is the most interesting section of the
film—a series of famous episodes from Hickok’s life shown very briefly in quick
tableau. We see Bill shoot it out with half a dozen buffalo hunters intent on
robbing him of his hides. The fight is triggered when he steps up to the bar
and one of them lifts the hat off his head. He turns and smashes him with the
back of his hand and next thing you know, guns are blazing. When it’s over and
the buffalo hunters are all dead Bill goes back to the bar and says: “They need
to understand. You never touch a man’s hat.”
Another scene depicts the famous incident in Abilene, Kansas
when Hickok as sheriff tried to stop roundup revelers from tearing up the town
and accidentally killed his own deputy. (For a nice treatment of that true
incident check out the half-hour “Gunsmoke” episode called “The Roundup,” with
Matt Dillon killing an old friend who had substituted for an ailing Chester). Another
scene shows Hickok giving an embarrassing performance in Buffalo Bill Cody’s
(Keith Carradine) Wild West show.
Problems with the story really start soon after Hickok
arrives in Deadwood Gulch, Dakota Territory, where, as we all know, it’s just a
matter of time before he stares down at those aces and eights (the Dead Man’s Hand),
and gets shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall. In Deadwood he’s reunited
with his old flame Calamity, Charlie Prince and an old traveling companion named
California Joe (James Gammon). The reunion with Calamity is a sad one, however.
Bill no longer has any interest in rekindling the flame. In another flashback
we learn he is going blind from glaucoma that was probably caused by syphilis. Their
relationship is a portrait of sadness, anger and frustration.
Hill’s screenplay is based on Pete Dexter’s “Deadwood”
(the basis of the HBO series) and “Fathers and Sons,” a play by Thomas Babe. Where
it goes wrong is in the fabrication that Jack McCall (David Arquette) was the
son of a woman named Susannah Moore (Diane Ladd), whom Hickok had loved and abandoned.
McCall wants to kill Hickok out of revenge for his cold-hearted treatment of
his mother. There are more flashback scenes showing what happened between Bill
and Susannah, but none of it ever happened in real life. It makes for
interesting, if sentimental, drama but it’s unnecessary and only muddles the
story. The fact is that McCall was just a tinhorn drunk who had lost all his money
to Wild Bill in a poker game and was humiliated when Bill took pity on him and
gave him some money to get something to eat. The next day he came back in the
saloon in a drunken rage, called him a name and shot him from behind. McCall,
in one of two trials that were held on the case tried to argue that Wild Bill
had killed his younger brother, but the truth of that allegation was never
With the untimely death of Peter Sellers in 1980, his long-time collaborator, writer/director Blake Edwards decided to create a "tribute" to his iconic star of their "Pink Panther" series by filming not just one, but two sequels simultaneously. The decision was not without controversy as virtually everyone in the film industry was aware of the fact that the two men had long ago come to loathe each other but continued to work together because of the success of the "Panther" franchise. The first sequel, "Trail of the Pink Panther" was a cut-and-paste job incorporating clips from Sellers' original films as Inspector Jacques Clouseau along with unseen outtakes that were cobbled together to form a plot in which Clouseau goes inexplicably missing in the second half of the film (only because Edwards had run out of outtakes.) The film sets the premise for the second sequel, "Curse of the Pink Panther" (1983) which was designed to introduce a suitable replacement for the Sellers/Clouseau persona in the form of a new character. Edwards originally approached then red-hot Dudley Moore, who declined to be tied to a film franchise. He then went in the opposite direction and hired Ted Wass, a veteran of the TV sitcom "Soap", to take on the challenge of establishing himself as Sellers' successor. It was a tall order especially for a young actor who had never made a feature film and who was completely ignorant of the process. Still, it represented an offer he couldn't refuse. The script picks up where "Trail" leaves off with the world galvanized by the authorities' attempts to find what happened to "the world's greatest detective". Leading the frantic investigation is French Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), Clouseau's long-suffering boss and a klutz in his own right. Dreyfus is secretly thrilled that Clouseau has gone missing and may be dead but he's forced to oversee the search efforts. In a scene that seems inspired by "Our Man Flint", he utilizes a computer to come up with the name of the sleuth who is most qualified to take on the mission. Through a quirk, the resulting answer puzzles everyone: it turns out to be Clifton Sleigh (Ted Wass), an inept New York City police officer who, like Clouseau, has gained a reputation for efficiency despite his constant bumbling. Sleigh's own harried boss is thrilled to send him packing off to Paris to take on the investigation. Sleigh's first meeting with Dreyfus quickly crushes the latter's hopes that he might finally be working in alliance with a capable detective. The simple act of crossing room and shaking Dreyfus's hand results in Sleigh stumbling and knocking the French lawman out of a window, resulting in being hospitalized, as he had so often been due to Clouseau's ineptness. Lom's comic timing was always a major asset to the series and he's in top form here.
The story then finds Sleigh on hunt across exotic European locations in search of Clouseau. It's a journey that rapidly becomes wearying despite Edwards' attempts to liven the proceedings with frequent scenes of slapstick humor. Sleigh meets up with Cato (Burt Kwouk), Sellers' longtime man servant, who has now established their apartment as a museum in honor of his employer, replete with wax figurines representing Clouseau's greatest disguises. The scene seems more like another desperate gimmick on the part of Edwards to summon the presence of Sellers, even if its in the form of a wax model. Along the way, Sleigh also encounters characters from the early "Panther" films including those played by David Niven, Robert Wagner and Capucine (all of whom filmed their reunion scenes for "Trail" with the understanding that some of the footage would be utilized in "Curse"). The assemblage of these notable stars is one of the few inspired aspects of "Curse" and it's a joy to see them together, even though the ailing Niven had to be re-voiced by impressionist Rich Little, who did a very commendable job of it. A gangster played by Robert Loggia is introduced into the convoluted plot that takes on an "everything-but-the-kitchen sink" aspect and another character from Clouseau's past, Prof. Balls makes a couple of brief appearances to little effect despite the fact that the role is played once again by the great comedic second banana Harvey Korman. The proceedings drag on through flat and completely predictable sight gags, some of which go on interminably (i.e Sleigh in drag as an undercover cop in New York and later using a blow-up sex doll in an attempt to convince bystanders she is his girlfriend. There's also a seemingly endless fight scene in which Sleigh takes on the baddies with the help of a sexy female martial arts expert). What is most shocking about "Curse" is how the timing is off on almost every comedic set-up, which is rather surprising given the fact that Edwards originated the series and professed to care about it immensely. It would be easy to blame Ted Wass for the film's failure but in reality the young star gamely performs his required duties with admirable skill. However, he's hampered by a poorly-developed character and Edwards seemed convinced that the mere intention to name him as Sellers' successor would immediately win over audiences. However, Wass's Sgt. Sleigh is merely a klutz with none of the fabled eccentricities of his predecessor. The fact that he wears over-sized eyeglasses that make him look remarkably like Christopher Reeve's Clark Kent only adds to his burden. The film only comes alive in the final act with an extended and clever cameo appearance by Roger Moore (amusingly billed as "Turk Thrust II", a reference to Bryan Forbes' screen credit in "A Shot in the Dark"), who was simultaneously filming the James Bond movie "Octopussy" on another sound stage at Pinewood Studios. Moore's deft comedic timing steals the entire latter part of the film and left this viewer pondering that, had he been the star of the production, the movie might not have been so ill-fated. It must be said, however, that the film does boast one other positive aspect: the traditional, wonderfully animated opening credits that make it all the more apparent how frustrating movies seem today in the sense that they usually eschew opening credits all together. An entire art form is vanishing from the industry in the urge to "cut to the chase" and get immediately into the story.
Blake Edwards originally envisioned that the Ted Wass series of "Panther" films would be moved to New York City, partly to accommodate MGM's insistence that the franchise become more budget-oriented. The unpromising prospects that scenario afforded were circumvented by the failure of the movie. But the problems didn't end there. Edwards accused MGM of intentionally low-balling the film's release and not marketing it aggressively enough. The suit was settled out of court in 1988. The title "Curse of the Pink Panther"s seemed eerily prophetic for all concerned.
Chances are you've never heard of "Hollow Creek" (or "A Haunting in Hollow Creek", per the UK release title). It's a low-budget ($500,000) indie film that was made under the auspices of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre, an admirable venture that encourages film industry professionals to mentor promising younger talents in the hopes that they will be able to create inventive new feature films. "Hollow Creek" was written by an alumnus of the Institute, director Guisela Moro, who also has the female lead. The film was co-written by the male star, Steve Daron. It's an ambitious crime thriller by way of supernatural elements that looks more expensive and polished than its budget might indicate. The film, which sat on a shelf for three years, was released in 2016 and was recently made available on DVD and Amazon Prime streaming service. The plot starts off in a leisurely manner: bestselling horror novel writer Blake Blackman (Daron) arrives at his agent's vacation home located in the deep woods of rural West Virginia. He's accompanied by Angelica Santoro (Moro), who we initially presume to be his wife. Blackman is there to write his next novel but he's secretly harboring an obstacle: a severe case of writer's block. Not helping matters are the sexual distractions afforded him by Angelica, who we learn is actually his mistress. Blackman's marriage has been fragile for some time and he relishes the time spent with Angelica- but their bliss will be short-lived. While Blackman is preoccupied by trying to fill blank pages for his next book, Angelica becomes unsettled by some eerie and inexplicable events including indications someone or something is lurking in the nearby woods. She also has a brief glimpse of the ghostly apparition of a young boy. She later learns that the area has been on edge for the last few years due to the unsolved disappearances of three boys. When she thinks she recognizes one of them in the back seat of a dilapidated old vehicle, she gives chase in true Lois Lane fashion. She discovers that two of the boys have been held captive and literally kept in cages in a hidden chamber in house owned and occupied by a crazy, sadistic couple. Angelica, who has just learned she is three months pregnant with Blackman's child, is captured and imprisoned with the expectation that her child will belong to her insane captors. Meanwhile, the frantic Blackman's life begins to unravel. He's released from contract by his publishing house, his wife files for divorce and due to circumstantial evidence, he is the police department's prime suspect in Angelica's disappearance. Nevertheless, he doggedly pursues finding out what happened to Angelica and rescuing her if he can.
Were it not for some of the more sordid elements, "Hollow Creek" would have fit well into the ABC Movie of the Week productions that were telecast on TV in the 1970s. That's meant as a compliment, not a knock. The film isn't without flaws. It has a primary plot loophole in that, when Angelica goes missing, it's never explained what happened to her SUV, which was parked near the villain's house. Additionally, the film's chaotic but exciting conclusion incorporates elements of the supernatural that seem somewhat superfluous since the film succeeds on the level of being a compelling real-life crime saga. Nevertheless, it's an extraordinarily accomplished work for the aspiring director and her cast. Moro certainly doesn't give herself an easy time of it. In addition to having written and directed "Hollow Creek", she puts her character through the ringer, having to endure torture and death threats from her sadistic captors. Although the film has unsettling aspects to it, Moro refreshingly doesn't bleed into slasher territory and shows restraint when it comes to crossing the line into showing repulsive imagery. She gives a terrific performance, as does Steve Daron. The supporting cast is also exceptional with not a false note to be found. Burt Reynolds makes a brief but effective appearance in an obvious gesture to lend the credibility of his name to the film. The movie is impressively scored and shot, though cinematographer Jon Schellenger can't resist being a bit gimmicky by utilizing a distracting technique of filming some scenes inexplicably in a garish blue hue. The finale packs in some cliches and predictable action scenes but there is an imaginative and moving finale.
The FilmRise DVD boasts an excellent transfer, but frustratingly there are no extras. It would have been interesting to hear the perspectives of the principals regarding how the film was made. "Hollow Creek" is an impressive, often spellbinding thriller. If there's any justice, we should be hearing more from Guisela Moro and Steve Daron.
In the wake of their success co-starring in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, Warner Brothers realized they had captured lightning in a bottle with the teaming of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The studio quickly paired the two character actors again in the Bogart films Casablanca and Passage to Marseilles. In 1944, Warners decided to give Greenstreet and Lorre what amounted to starring roles in the thriller The Mask of Dimitrios, based on the Eric Ambler novel and set in pre-WWII Europe. (Lorre received fourth billing in the film behind Greenstreet, Zachary Scott and Faye Emerson, but in terms of screen time, he is the star of the movie.) Lorre plays Cornelius Leyden, a mild mannered crime novelist who is visiting Istanbul, where he becomes intrigued by the murder of a man named Dimitrios, who was a local legend in terms of his criminal activities. Dimitrios's body has washed ashore, as shows evidence that he has been stabbed to death. Sensing a good story in the murder, Leyden pursues the man's background and finds out he was known throughout Europe for his audacious crimes. Leyden decides to track down those who interacted with Dimitrios, including jilted partner and abandoned girlfriends. All agree that he was a charismatic cad who worked his way up from petty crimes in Istanbul to being an integral part of Europe's pre-war espionage activities. Leyden is followed in his footsteps by Peters (Sydney Greenstreet), an affable man of mystery who is also obsessed with tracking down Dimitrios's acquaintances and activities leading up to the man's death. After a rocky introduction at the point of Peters' gun, the two men forge an alliance and travel through Turkey, Yuguoslavia and finally Paris in their quest. Along the way, they determine that Dimitrios is very much alive and well, having used another man's murder as an opportunity to fake his own death. Peters is determined to use that information to blackmail Dimitrios and thus ensure acquiring enough money to afford a comfortable retirement.
Much of the story is told in flashbacks as various individuals relate their experiences with Dimitrios to Leyden and Peters. As played by Zachary Scott, Dimitrios lives up to his legend as handsome womanizer and persuasive businessman, though each of his friends and partners ends up being abruptly jilted in some manner, as Dimitrios moves on to his next scam. (Jack Warner had high hopes for Scott becoming the studio's next great leading man, but his interest in promoting Scott seemed to wane and the actor never really acquired the stardom that his role in this film would seem to have assured.) Leyden and Peters also meet Irana, an entertainer in a squalid Istanbul cafe, who relates how Dimitrios became her lover and ensured that her fortunes improved. However, when she loaned him her savings, he abandoned her, never to be heard from again. Although nursing a broken heart and bearing resentment for the man on one level, she admits she still carries a torch and his abandonment of her left her in a depressed state of mind that still continues. (Apparently, once you've experienced Dimitrios, no other man comes to close as a lover.) As Leyden and Peters close in on their prey, the stakes become higher - and they realize their lives are very much at risk.
The Mask of Dimitrios, ably directed by Jean Negulesco, is a joy to watch. It doesn't have the artistic pretensions of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, but it is a thoroughly entertaining movie. Lorre and Greenstreet's "Mutt and Jeff" act continues to present them as essentially the same character in film after film, but that doesn't in any way compromise the delight of watching these two eccentric actors at the peak of their careers. The supporting performances are also equally delightful and the film bares all the rich artistic hallmarks of a WB release from the era.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn-to-order DVD. The transfer is excellent. An original trailer is included that features specially-filmed footage of Greenstreet and Lorre addressing the audience. The DVD is region free.
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Warner Archive has released the little-remembered 1969 adventure film Kenner. Although we'll watch Brown in virtually anything, this film is pretty much a klunky, under-scripted misfire, directed by Steve Sekely, who specialized in B movies. (His greatest success was Day of the Triffids.) Brown plays the title role of Roy Kenner, a rugged, no-nonsense seafarer who arrives in Bombay ostensibly to locate an old friend who has gone missing. In fact, he's trying to track down a ruthless criminal named Jordan (Charles Horvath), a one-time partner whose double crossing ways resulted in the death of Kenner's best friend. The film's misguided premise is to show the touchy-feely side of Brown when virtually no one went to his films looking for his touchy-feely side. Within minutes of arriving in Bombay, he encounters Saji (Ricky Cordell), an adorable child of the streets who longs to see his American father. His devoted mother Anasuya (Madlyn Rhue) keeps a terrible secret from him: she is a prostitute who doesn't even know who fathered the boy. Saji helps Kenner escape harm at the hands of an angry mob and, as a result, the two become inseparable. Kenner romances Anasuya, but both mother and son become unwitting participants in Kenner's dangerous attempts to track down Jordan. The film meanders from one chase to another, and director Sekely does the best he can to capitalize on the exotic locations in old Bombay and provides a few exciting, well-staged chase scenes. However. everyone seems to realize they are participating in a bottom-of-the-double-feature production. Brown is uncharacteristically bland, phoning in his performance and performing the requisite action sequences with something less than zeal. There is one surprising plot development that does pack some emotional impact, but the film is, in the overall sense, a misfire. The former footballer-turned-action star was overexposed at the time, with six movies released between 1968-1969 though he would later redeem himself with more successful films than this. The supporting cast of Kenner contributes some admirable performances, with old hand Robert Coote as a devious English aristocrat providing a few interesting moments. However, the performance of Charles Horvath as the villain is poor enough to make viewers grateful that he has limited screen time. Unless you have an urgent desire to see what Bombay looked like in 1969, this Brown title will be only for the actor's hard-core fans. The DVD contains the original trailer, which plays up the exotic locations and action elements, while pointedly avoiding the attempts to soft-soap Brown's character.
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it would be a wait of 15 months before it hit British screens, Phenomena –
Dario Argento’s ninth feature release – was first unveiled to Italian audiences
early in 1985. It had been three years since Tenebrae (which despite stiff
competition is my favourite Argento) and at the time Phenomena was broadly
considered his weakest offering. It’s narrative core, which concerns a young
girl communing with insects in order to identify a maniac killer, was indisputably
a shade bananas (rather apt given the significant involvement of a vengeful
primate!), but for me it was by no means his least interesting film to that
point and considering the mixed bag of cinematic fodder bearing his name that’s
appeared in the years since, I’d not hesitate to cite it as one of his more
Corvino (Jennifer Connelly), the teenage daughter of a famous movie star,
arrives at The Richard Wagner International School for Girls in Switzerland
where she learns from her new roommate that a number of girls in the area have
gone missing, the possible victims of a serial killer. Jennifer suffers from somnambulism
and one night she wakens to find herself lost in the woods, whereupon she
encounters a friendly chimpanzee which leads her to safety at the nearby home
of its owner, wheelchair-bound entomologist Professor John McGregor (Donald
Pleasence). Jennifer is fascinated by insects and when she tells McGregor she’s
able to communicate with them telepathically the two become firm friends.
McGregor has been assisting police on the serial killer case in an advisory
capacity and believes that the corpses of the missing girls can be tracked down
by the Great Sarcophagus, a species of fly that can detect rotting flesh. He
duly convinces Jennifer she can help solve the case by using one that he has
captive to guide her to the refuge of the killer.
(with Franco Ferrini), produced and directed by Argento, it’s obvious from the
above précis that Phenomena is structured upon some pretty outré ideas. But
even if the results aren’t entirely satisfying, I applaud the man for
attempting to do something beyond playing safe and recycling the same old
giallo formula. Besides which, overlooking its inadequacies – not least of
which is a run-time that overstretches the narrative’s ability to fully engage –
there’s some really good stuff going on here.
of that run-time, if ever proof were needed that it’s possible to have too much
of a good thing then Phenomena is it. There exist three versions of the movie:
the 116-minute Italian cut, a 110-minute international edit, and an American
theatrical cut (retitled Creepers and which, at 83-minutes, had almost a third of
the Italian original’s run-time sheared off it); against all expectation it’s
the latter tightened-up version that arguably plays best.
I digress. The Swiss locations are breathtaking and in terms of set-up, Phenomena’s
opening sequence – which finds a young girl on a class trip into the mountains
being inadvertently left behind when the coach departs (they used to count us
aboard in my day!) – is terrific. The girl, played by his teenage daughter
Fiore, goes looking for help and happens across a chalet nestled in the
hillside where someone (or something!) tries to kill her. She flees but is
pursued by the grunting, scissor-wielding maniac to an observation platform
overlooking a waterfall. All the pieces are in place for the film’s first
murder sequence and with almost lascivious relish the camera observes a
stabbing, followed by a slo-mo backwards lurch through a plate glass window and
finally a decapitation. There’s graphic mayhem aplenty peppered throughout the
remainder of the movie (including a protracted wallow in a vile stew of rotting
cadavers), but for sheer style this opener is never quite matched.
Connelly was 14-years-old when she shot Phenomena and given that it was only
her second feature film appearance (following a small part in 1984’s Once Upon
a Time in America), it’s remarkable just how confidently she carries the film;
not only a budding beauty but already exhibiting the talent that would carry
her on to great acclaim (including an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind) in the years
ahead. Donald Pleasence showed up in a fistful of Italian chillers of varied
worth during the 1980s and he’s as reliably entertaining as ever here, adopting
a Scottish accent as the academic whose closest chum is a chimp. Argento’s
long-time partner and go-to leading lady (cf. Deep Red, Inferno, Tenebrae, Opera)
Daria Nicolodi delivers with elan, so too for that matter does gorgeous Flesh
for Frankenstein star Dalila Di Lazzaro, present as Jennifer’s chaperone and
school headmistress respectively. It’s good to see prolific player Patrick
Bauchau on hand too, although he’s a tad underused as the investigating police
inspector, very much relegated to the sidelines of the action.
Burt Reynolds had been gnawing around the boundaries of genuine stardom for more than a decade, starring in short-lived television shows and top-lining "B" movies. He ingratiated himself to the American public by showcasing his wit and comedic abilities by appearing on chat shows. In 1972, he struck gold when director John Boorman cast him opposite Jon Voight as the two male leads in the sensational film adaptation of James Dickey's "Deliverance". Finally, he could be classified as a major movie star. Soon, Reynolds was cranking out major films even while his uncanny ability to publicize himself resulted in such stunts as his famed provocative centerfold pose in Cosmopolitan magazine. On screen, Reynolds sensed that he could cultivate an especially enthusiastic audience if he catered to rural movie-goers. He was proven right with the release of "White Lightning", a highly enjoyable 1973 action/comedy that perfectly showcased Reynolds' favored image as a handsome, unflappable hero with a Bondian knack for tossing off quips while facing death and also engaging in good ol' boy towel-snapping humor. Playing bootlegger Gator McClusky, Reynolds drew major crowds, very much pleasing United Artists, which enjoyed hefty profits from the modestly-budgeted production. Reynolds learned, however, that his audience wouldn't necessarily follow him if he deviated from that image. When he went against the grain in films like "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing", "At Long Last Love" and "Lucky Lady", the movies bombed. When he stuck to the basics, he had hits with "Shamus", "The Longest Yard" and "W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings". The legendary Variety headline that read "Hix Nix Stix Pix" was no longer true. The American heartland loved Burt Reynolds, especially when he played characters that rural audiences could embrace.
In 1976, Reynolds fulfilled another career milestone by directing his first feature film, a sequel to "White Lightning" titled "Gator". Like the first movie, it was shot entirely on location in Georgia and picked up on the adventures of everyone's favorite moonshiner. When we first see Gator in the sequel, he his getting out of jail only to be targeted by the feds to be used as a pawn in a multi-state crackdown on an epidemic of political corruption that threatens the career of the self-serving, ambitious governor (played very well by famed chat show host Mike Douglas in his big screen debut.) Gator is living in a shack located deep in an inhospitable swamp with his elderly father and precocious 9 year-old daughter when the feds launch a major raid to arrest him on moonshining charges. In reality, they want to use the warrant as leverage to convince him to go undercover for them inside the crime ring. Gator wants no part of it and leads the feds on a merry chase around the bayou in which he is pursued by speed boats and helicopters before finally relenting. The lead federal agent in charge is Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston), an overweight, hyper-nervous Jewish guy from Manhattan who has the unenviable task of ensuring that Gator follows orders. A good portion of the film's laugh quotient comes from Irving's less-than-convincing attempts to "blend in" with small town southern locals. The crime ring is run by Bama McCall (Jerry Reed), an outwardly charming and charismatic fellow who, in reality, uses brutally violent methods to ensure loyalty and intimidate local businessmen to pay protection money. He and Gator are old acquaintances and he doesn't hesitate to give Gator a good-paying job as an enforcer for his mob. Things become more intriguing when Gator sets eyes on Aggie Maybank (Lauren Hutton), an attractive local TV anchor with liberal political beliefs that find her squaring off against Bama in order to protect the poor merchants he is exploiting. "Gator" proceeds on a predictable path but its predictability doesn't detract from its merits, which are considerable. Reynolds is a joy to watch and it's small wonder he leaped to the top ranks of cinematic leading men. His cocky, self-assured persona served him well on the big screen and "Gator" is custom-made to please his core audience. He also proved to be a very able director, handling the action scenes and those of unexpected tragic twists with equal skill. He also gets very good performances from his eclectic cast, with Weston engaging in his usual penchant for scene-stealing. Reed also shines in a rare villainous role and ex-model Hutton proves she has admirable acting chops, as well. The action scenes are impressive thanks to the oversight of the legendary Hal Needham, who would forge a long-time collaborative relationship with Reynolds.
The year 1968 proved to be one of the most dramatic in American history. With the Vietnam War protest movement in high gear, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the decision by President Lyndon B. Johnson to not run for a second term, the Chicago riots and the the chaos in the Democratic party that lead to Richard Nixon's return from the political graveyard, at times it seemed like the very fabric of American society was falling apart. So it came as no surprise that the exhausted citizenry would try to find some temporary solace through popular entertainment. The movie "Yours, Mine and Ours" was a considerable hit partly because it starred two Hollywood icons: Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda and partly because it was so far removed from the contentious factors that defined every day living for most people. The film marked Lucille Ball's second-to-last big screen appearance (her final one being the ill-fated 1974 screen adaptation of "Mame"). She was never overly enamored of making theatrical films since she had such a loyal following on television. "Ours" was a notable exception and the film provided her with a good role in which to show she still had the timing that made her a comedy legend.
The film is based on the story of a real-life North and Beardsley families and inspired Helen North Beardsley (played by Lucy in the film) to write a book titled "Who gets the Drumstick?", which explored the humorous anecdotes of running a household with 22 children. Lucy had read the book and saw the potential for a screen adaptation. She enlisted her long-time sitcom writers Bob Carroll, Jr and Madelyn Davis to come up with a story for a feature film. Melville Shavelson, an old pro and directing comedy films, was brought on board to helm the production and co-write the screenplay. The coup was casting Henry Fonda as the husband, Frank Beardsley. The final script tossed out most real-life accuracies in favor of Hollywood schmaltz, which may be why Helen North Beardsley's book isn't officially credited as a source. (In real life, the Beardsley clan ended up mired in divorce and sibling disputes that extend to this day.) The film opens with Frank Beardsley (Fonda), a career naval officer returning from an extended stint at sea. Recently widowed, Frank has ten children ranging in age from late teens to infants. His brother and sister-in-law (the real heroes of the story) have been caring for them all until he returns. Once Frank assumes the dual duties of both mom and dad, he predictably finds the workload overwhelming. He keeps bumping into Helen North (Lucy), an attractive nurse on the naval base and the two are immediately attracted to each other. She has also recently been widowed and has eight children of her own. Amusingly, when the two go on their first date, each is reluctant to reveal to the other that they have such a large family. When the beans are spilled, they decide they can make the situation work to their advantage by getting married.
What follows is predictable bedlam as the kids resist being forced to share their home with the "other' family. Much time is spent on Helen trying to placate both sides and managing to alienate everyone. Meanwhile, hubby Frank resumes his naval duties, thus leaving Helen to deal with the 24/7 chaos but he does amusingly institute a navy-like system of keeping order in the house that mimics Capt. Von Trapp's methods in "The Sound of Music". The film is typical of these big family comedies in that the smaller kids tend to be lovable while the teenagers are self-centered and arrogant. It will not require a spoiler alert to state that in the end a crisis unites everyone to form one big, happy family. The film plays out like a big screen version of a sitcom with every predictable sight gag imaginable, albeit with a bit of saucy sexual humor thrown in. Nevertheless, it manages to be entertaining throughout thanks in large part to the engaging cast. Lucy and Fonda have genuine screen chemistry. Van Johnson pops up occasionally as Fonda's fellow naval officer and close friend and manages to get few laughs in a cliched buddy role. Tom Bosley makes a brief but amusing appearance as a physician who makes a house call on the Beardsley abode only to find the situation mind-boggling in terms of the sheer craziness on display. The film was obviously supposed to serve as a vehicle of tolerance for very large families but unintentionally seems to be a promotion for Planned Parenthood. Despite taking place during the height of the Vietnam War protests, when elder son Tim Matheson ends up being drafted, the family sends him off with all the concern that might be expended on a kid going to 4-H camp for a week. The film is devoid of any reflection of the political and social strife that had affected every American family during this crucial year. However, no one goes to see Lucille Ball in order to be reminded of social problems and director Melville Shavelson does an admirable job of making a cornball scenario play out more successfully than might have been imagined.
The movie has been released on Blu-ray by Olive Films and the transfer looks great. The only bonus extra is a work print trailer that doesn't seem to be finalized.
Business isn’t exactly booming for private
detective Peter Joseph Detweiler, better known as P.J. His makeshift office is
in a bar belonging to his only friend Charlie, his sporadic jobs include
entrapping cheating wives and he is not above drowning his sorrows in liquor. So
when wealthy magnate William Orbison offers him a substantial fee to be a
bodyguard for his mistress, Maureen Prebble, he jumps at the chance. What P.J.
doesn’t know is that Orbison has already hired someone else to commit a murder.
How this murder and the shamus’s new job intersect is the crux of the terrific
1968 neo-noir from Universal, P.J. (U.K.
title: New Face in Hell.)
Private detectives were prominent in the late
1960s and included Harper (1966), Tony Rome (1967), Gunn (1967), and Marlowe (1969).
P.J. appeared in the midst of this
surplus, which may account in part for its box office failure. The movie quickly
disappeared, at least in its original form. Due to one extended and bloody
sequence in a gay bar as well as to other scenes of violence and sexuality,
Universal drastically cut and re-edited the movie for its television network
presentation. Since then, it has never been officially released on home video
and the original version may be lost forever.
Philip Reisman, Jr.’s screenplay is based on
his original story co-written with producer Edward Montagne. The script initially
unfolds as a conventional mystery but gets increasingly complicated with each
twist and turn. Maureen appears to definitely need a bodyguard, in view of threatening
letters as well as a shot fired into her bedroom. And there is no shortage of
suspects who would like to see her dead. Orbison’s emotionally fragile wife,
Betty, resents the very thought of her husband’s paramour. Betty’s relatives despise
Maureen because of her emergence as principle beneficiary in Orbison’s will. Orbison’s
Executive Assistant, Jason Grenoble, due to his apparent affluent upbringing, is
displeased about being used as a flunky. Making P.J.’s job more difficult is Orbison’s
decision to take everyone, including relatives and mistress, to his hideaway in
the Caribbean island of St. Crispin’s. And it is in this tropical setting that
P.J. is forced to kill a suspect. This seems to be the end of the case. But it
is really only the end of the second act. The third act is filled with
intrigue, deception, blackmail and three brutal deaths.
John Guillermin is an underappreciated
director who created admirable films in many genres, including mystery, adventure,
war and western as well as the disaster and monster genres. His success could perhaps be due not only to his
skill but to a style that is unobtrusive. He directs P.J. in a straightforward fashion, not allowing any directorial flourishes
to interrupt the flow of the story. With cinematographer Loyal Griggs, he cleverly
contrasts the seedy sections of New York City with the natural beauty of St.
Crispin’s. However, this beauty is soon tainted by the presence of Orbison, whose
wealth the island’s economy requires to flourish. Guillermin allows each of the
characters within Orbison’s contingent enough screen time to make an impact.
Basically, they all appear to be self-centered, greedy and nasty. Orbison is
especially sadistic, in addition to being notoriously miserly. Maureen doesn’t
apologize for providing sexual favors in exchange for future wealth. Betty is
willing to be repeatedly humiliated to obtain her customary allowance. Grenoble
continually demeans himself to keep his well-paid position. And then there is butler
Shelton Quell, who is not as harmless as his effeminate mannerisms suggest. This
is a sordid group of characters that P.J. is involved with but his dire
financial state has apparently extinguished his conscience, particularly since
he soon becomes intimately involved with the body that he is guarding. P.J.’s
essential irony arises from the fact that he is equally greedy, at least
initially. He also seems to be morally bankrupt. When he encounters Orbison
leaving Maureen’s cottage, it doesn’t faze him that they have just engaged in a
quickie. P.J. knows that he has sold his gun to Orbison just as Maureen has
sold her body.
In the early 1960s, George Peppard became a
major star in expensive films such as The
Carpetbaggers and How the West Was
Won. In mid-decade, he starred in another big-budget film, The Blue Max, the first of three movies
he would make with John Guillermin. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he starred
in several smaller-budgeted movies. While some of them, especially Pendulum and The Groundstar Conspiracy are exceptional, others are unremarkable.
The commercial failure of these movies diminished his star status and he was
relegated to series television. This was regrettable because he had genuine
star quality as well as considerable talent.
As P.J. Detweiler, Peppard creates a unique
private eye that puts him apart from his cinematic brethren. P.J. initially appears
disillusioned with his life and work. Like many film noir protagonists, he is one
of society’s alienated outcasts. He is not just down and out but seems resigned
to his dismal situation. When he is offered the lucrative position of
bodyguard, he is so destitute that he agrees to a humiliating audition of
fisticuffs. As he begins his job, he appears impassive to the decadence of
Orbison’s environment. However, after he has been duped and discarded, he
asserts himself and becomes a traditional detective who is determined to pursue
clues and solve the mystery. But unlike traditional detectives, he doesn’t
derive any pleasure from the solution to the crime. The fact that he has been maneuvered
into facilitating a murder has emotionally drained him. At the end of the film,
he forces a cheerless smile at Charlie but he is unable to sustain it,
replacing it quickly with a look of despair. All of these emotions are
reflected in Peppard’s superb portrayal.
Admittedly I'm not proficient in analyzing Italian "giallo" films. They represent a peculiar genre combining film noir with tinges of crime and overt sexual behavior, often of a perverse nature. Director Giulio Questi's bizarrely-titled "Death Laid an Egg" is a 1968 production that has acquired a significant cult appeal. It's easy to see why. The movie is a mind-bending exercise in quasi-surrealism combined with Hitchcockian elements of kinky people involved in murderous activities. Much of the action takes place in- get this- a state-of-the-art chicken processing plant run by Anna (Gina Lollobrigida), a sexy and dominating woman who constantly berates her long-suffering husband Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The couple has a marriage of convenience and spend much of their time bickering about how to run the plant, which is in financial trouble and is beset with problems with recently fired workers who hang about and exhibiting threatening behavior. The plant is of great concern to their financial investors who are pushing Anna and Marco to develop a mutant form of chicken that will dispense with such unnecessary parts as the head, thereby improving profitability. This strange premise sets the basis for the story, which only gets weirder as the plot progresses. Anna and Marco's marriage is threatened by the presence of their sensuous, live-in secretary Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin), a sexually liberated teenager who has a magnetic hold on the couple. Marco is scheming how to get away from Anna and start a new life with Gabrielle but he's financially dependent upon Anna's fortune in order to survive. Meanwhile, Anna is equally smitten by her and the two women even sleep together, implying they, too, have a sexual relationship. However, Anna is having an affair with another man, Luigi (Renato Romano) who she considers to be her real lover. They are scheming how to manipulate Anna and Marco for their own financial advantage. Complicating matters is Marco's hobby-- which is checking into a roadside hotel frequented by prostitutes and abusing and even murdering the ladies of the night in ritualistic S&M practices. There is also a Felliniesque scene in which pampered members of the social elite engage in a strange party game that involves randomly selected guests forming pairs and entering a deserted room where presumably they are to explore their inner-most sexual fantasies. Toss into the mix a subplot in which chemists realize their dream of creating the mutant chicken, which pleases the financial backers of the processing plant- only to have Marco react with disgust about the development, leading him to suffer a breakdown of sorts that threatens his own livelihood. Got all that? If so, then please explain it to me.
The film's scattershot plot devices make it hard to follow. Director Questi moves the action along at too-brisk-a-pace to fully comprehend what we need to absorb in order to fully comprehend the characters' motivations and who is doing what to whom. You'll probably find yourself revisiting key parts of the movie in an attempt to gain a better understanding of what is going on. Having said that, the film is stylishly presented and is bizarre enough to hold the viewer's attention. Helping matters are the performances of Trintigant, Lollobrigida and Aulin. The first two actors were royalty of the European cinema at the time the movie was made and they deliver the goods. Perhaps most surprising is the fact that young Ewa Aulin, whose brief career has left her regarded as a flash-in-the-pan sex symbol of the era, gives an impressive, nuanced and admirable performance in the presence of her two esteemed co-stars. The film also benefits from an inspired score by Bruno Maderna that perfectly captures the bizarre mood of this very bizarre film.
Fans of "Death Laid an Egg" have had to subside on sub-par home video releases of the movie but now the creative folks at Cult Epics have issued a Blu-ray/DVD edition that must be a substantial improvement over existing releases. The film is presented in its original Italian language version with English sub-titles in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but IMDB lists the original theatrical ratio as 1.85:1, which may explain why the opening credits are subjected to some of the names being partially cropped. Still, it's an impressive release and there are some welcome bonus extras including the original trailer, isolated soundtrack score and a nice photo gallery of promotional materials. The movie is certainly an acquired taste but if you're feeling adventurous, give it a try.
Cary Grant was one of the few actors to defy the effects of aging. The older he got, the more popular his films became. By the late 1950s Grant had become uncomfortable making movies because he realized audiences only wanted to see him as a romantic lead and he felt self-conscious about studio insistence that he be seen on screen romancing female leads who were often decades younger than him. Nonetheless, Grant kept forestalling his frequent vows to retire from acting. He had taken much more control over his career by forming his own production company and the result were some of the biggest hits of his career ("Operation Petticoat", "That Touch of Mink", "Charade"). Grant's primary motivation for not retiring was his desire- or rather, obsession- with winning an Oscar. Alfred Hitchcock had advised him that the best way to do so was to get away from playing the typical Cary Grant type on film and choose a role that was opposite from his usual image. Grant thought this was an inspired idea and agreed to star in a promising vehicle titled "Father Goose", which was written by Peter Stone, the screenwriter of Grant's megahit "Charade". The WWII era comedy would allow Grant to give a tour-de-force performance as Walter Eckland, an amiable, scrubby beach bum who intends to sit out the war in the South Pacific by lazing about getting drunk all day. His tropical paradise is threatened when he is dragooned into service as a coast watcher by his old crony Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard) of the Australian Navy, who informs Walter that he is cutting off his supply of booze unless he makes frequent reports on Japanese ship movements. Each time he does so, Frank will reveal where another bottle of liquor has been hidden. Walter reluctantly concedes, not out of patriotism, but out of personal inability to last long without a drink. (The banter over the radio between Grant and Howard is priceless). Things get complicated, however, when Walter ends up having to rescue a group of young schoolgirls and their teacher, Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron) after they have been shipwrecked on a nearby island. Most of the predictable fun comes from watching Grant's W.C. Fields-like persona having to cope with his young charges as well as their strict teacher, who forbids him from engaging in his generally deviant behavior. Grumpy and unshaven, Grant appears as he never had on film before and he gives one of the best performances of his career. He supposedly felt awkward in the inevitable love scenes with Caron, who was young enough to be his daughter, but the chemistry works on film. Grant's Walter is also a reluctant hero in the mode of Humphrey Bogart's Rick from "Casablanca". He's late to the challenge of doing his bit for the war effort, but he naturally comes through in the end. The film runs almost two hours but it's kept at a breezy pace by the talents of director Ralph Nelson and the jaunty score by Cy Coleman (including the memorable song "Pass Me By") adds immeasurably to the fun.
The Olive Films Blu-ray special edition has some impressive bonus extras. They include an audio commentary by ubiquitous film historian David DelValle. As someone who has recorded numerous audio commentaries, I always find they play out better when I invite other film scholars to join me. Oft times, a single commentator can delve into dull, professorial discussions. However, DelValle defies the odds and his solo track is thoroughly engaging and informative. DelValle did his homework and got access to Cary Grant's personal script from "Father Goose", which adds some insights into his mindset during filming. Additionally, he quotes liberally from Leslie Caron's memoirs about the making of the film, providing candid observations about Grant's unpredictable on-set mood swings. There is also an on-camera interview with Grant biographer Marc Elliott that is very interesting, though Elliott gets his facts wrong when he attributes Grant's late career traveling one-man stage shows as an inspiration for the Academy finally granting him an honorary Oscar. In fact, Grant's Oscar was presented to him in 1970, more than a decade before he initiated his stage appearances. Nevertheless, he provides some fascinating insights into Grant's personal life. There is also a filmed interview with Ted Nelson, son of director Ralph Nelson, who correctly points out how talented his father was- and indeed, how underrated Nelson's contributions to TV and movies of the era were. There is also a 1964 newsreel that includes the funeral of President Herbert Hoover followed by Leslie Caron receiving the "Star of the Year" award from American theater owners. Rounding out the package is a fine essay about "Father Goose" Village Voice writer Bilge Ebiri.
Cary Grant never got a competitive Oscar and indeed was never even nominated for "Father Goose", though Peter Stone won for his screenplay. Yet, he had the satisfaction of seeing the movie become a major hit. He would make only one more film- "Walk, Don't Run"- before going into retirement, leaving a legacy few other actors have equaled.
Olive Films used to take a lot of heat from retro movie lovers for putting out classic movies in bare-bones video editions. Looks like they got the memo because their recent releases feature highly impressive bonus features, as evidenced by this first rate edition of "Father Goose".
"Running on Empty" is one of Sidney Lumet's best films but the 1988 release remains one of his least-seen, despite winning enthusiastic reviews upon its release. Perhaps the offbeat storyline and lack of "boxoffice" names in starring roles prevented potentially appreciative audiences from seeing it. However, the good news is that the Warner Archive has made the title available on Blu-ray. Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti play Arthur and Annie Pope, a married couple who, in the 1970s, were part of a radical leftist group akin to the Weathermen. They carried out a scheme to destroy a facility that was manufacturing Napalm but the bombing had an unintended consequence: a security guard ended up blinded and partially paralyzed. Now it's 1988 and the couple have been on the run ever since, the FBI having doggedly pursued them the entire time. The Pope's situation is complicated by the fact that they have two sons: Danny (River Phoenix) is a senior in high school and his brother Harry (Jonas Abry) is a precocious pre-teen. The family is constantly pulling up stakes and moving out on the spur of the moment if they suspect the feds are closing in on them. When we first meet them in the film, the family is on the run again. They sustain themselves by Arthur getting short-term jobs in each new location, as Annie stays home with the boys. They are aided and abetted by a clandestine secret network of left-wing sympathizers who provide them with seed money to help them manage a lower-middle class lifestyle. Still, the nerve-wracking nature of their existence is taking a toll on everyone, especially Danny, who is of an age where he wants and needs stability. When the family ends up renting an apartment in a New Jersey suburb on the outskirts of New York City, Danny finally finds a niche in the high school. His music teacher, Mr. Phillips (Ed Crowley) recognizes the boy's musical abilities and arranges for him to apply to Julliard for a scholarship, which he wins against all odds. This development causes a family crisis. Arthur maintains that in order to attend the school, the family will finally have to come up with positive proof of Danny's real identity- a revelation that would be sure to bring in the authorities and separate him from the family indefinitely. Annie argues that it's time to put Danny's life dream ahead of their own priorities and claims she can ask her wealthy, estranged father who she has not been in contact with for years, to allow Danny to live with him in Manhattan. Arthur, who has an authoritarian streak, insists that the family stay together. Complicating matters is that Danny has fallen hard for his first true love, a sassy classmate named Lorna Phillips (Martha Plimpton), the daughter of his music teacher. She lives a privileged life but is unhappy because she doesn't adhere to society's idea of conventional behavior. The two teens become emotionally dependent upon each other- but when Arthur learns the feds are closing in again, Danny confesses his real identity to Lorna in order to explain why he has to leave in order to keep his family together.
If all of the above sounds a bit soap-operaish, it doesn't play out that way. Under Lumet's steady and assured direction, and working from a terrific screenplay by Noami Forner, every cast member delivers a superlative performance, including those in supporting roles. (Kudos to the casting director, Todd Thaler, for rounding up such a talented group.) Hirsch is great as the sincere but flawed father who barely hides a dictatorial nature. Lahti is equally good as his committed, but long-suffering wife. The scene stealers are River Phoenix and Martha Plimpton, both of whom deliver superb performances. There is no action, no violence, only pure human emotion. After so many years on the run, fractures appear in the relationship between Annie and Arthur. She had always been content to allow him to dominate the family's actions but now she is daring to defy him. There are so many beautiful and touching scenes in "Running on Empty", but one of the best is a quiet one in which young Danny and Lorna express their love for each other. It's one of the most richly rewarding romantic scenes in any film. There is also a beautiful and touching scene in which Annie defies Arthur by secretly arranging to meet with her estranged dad (superbly played by Steven Hill in an abbreviated but pivotal role). Tensions mount until the highly emotional final scene.
"Running on Empty" provides no villains. The FBI men are shadowy figures but they are just doing their jobs and trying to enforce the law. Annie and Arthur are haunted by the fact that their act of violence claimed an innocent victim but their ideology prevented them from ever taking responsibility for their actions. They are still committed idealists who believe in taking down the Establishment, even if they no longer adhere to doing so through violent means. The film is not only thought-provoking but thoroughly entertaining. It's another outstanding achievement, albeit it a relatively unheralded one, from one of America's master film directors.
For many years Pierce Brosnan has taken control of his own legacy through his production company Irish DreamTime. He's had some mixed results but the bottom line is that he has remained a popular, consistently working leading man. Brosnan's hi-tech thriller "I.T." was released in 2016 with a limited theatrical run that apparently didn't generate any substantial business. The film has been released on Blu-ray where it has been largely savaged by reviewers. Having watched the film, I'll dare to go in the opposite direction and swim against the tide. I found the film to be thoroughly entertaining and very slickly made with rich production values that mask its relatively modest budget.
Brosnan is well-cast as Mike Regan, a mega-wealthy industrialist who is gambling everything he has on the launch of a bold new enterprise. Essentially, it's an Uber-like service that caters to rich executives who need air transportation on a minute's notice. Regan's company has a fleet of private jets ready to serve this limited clientele in return for sky high fees. When we first meet Regan, he's frantically overseeing his company's first official unveiling of the business plan. He still has to get approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission, but feels he has nothing to worry about in that regard. However, upon personally launching the hi-tech, expensive video presentation in front of business executives, the press and potential investors, a serious glitch threatens to spell catastrophe when the video malfunctions. Regan is spared disaster by the intervention of Ed Porter (James Frecheville), an innocuous temporary employee who Regan doesn't even know. Thanks to Ed's quick thinking, the video presentation resumes quickly and is deemed a success. A grateful Regan personally thanks Ed and rewards him with full-time employment. He also invites him to his modern mansion house with a freelance assignment to rewire the outdated wi-fi capabilities. When Ed arrives at the house, Regan introduces him to his wife Rose (Ann Friel) and his attractive teenage daughter Kaitlyn (Stefanie Scott), who is a high school student. Regan gives Ed the royal treatment and encourages him to stay for drinks. Ed, meanwhile, has an ulterior motive. Upon having seen Kaitlyn tanning herself poolside while clad in a bikini, he decides to wire the home in a very unique manner that no one will be aware of. By the time he's done, the Regans have the ultimate hi-tech wiring system- but don't suspect that Ed has secretly installed microscopic video cameras and microphones that allow him to monitor every movement and conversation, which he views at his loft on a wall-sized video screen. Unbeknownst to Regan, Ed had also made some "improvements" to his state-of-the-art sports car that will allow Ed to manipulate the controls and a video system installed on the dashboard. Regan soon discovers that his friendly overtures to Ed have blurred the line between in the employer/employee relationship. Soon, Ed is showing up uninvited at the family home. Of more concern to Mike and Rose is Ed's increasingly obvious interest in Kaitlyn, who seems smitten by the older man. When Ed crosses the line, Regan ends up firing him in a very belittling manner and thereby opening a Pandora's Box of troubles for himself, his wife and daughter.
Ed seeks immediate revenge and he has plenty of tools at his disposal. A master hacker, he forges documents that are leaked to the SEC, causing Regan's pending deal to fall under suspicion of being illegal and gumming up the approval process. He also releases provocative footage of Kaitlyn in the shower that was secretly shot with the hidden cameras. The result is her humiliation among her friends and schoolmates. Regan catches on that his entire world is in the hands of a mentally unstable former employee and he decides to fight back. After trying to physically intimidate Ed- a tactic that fails- he uses his own hi tech genius, the shadowy Henrik (wonderfully played by Michael Nyqvist), who constructs a plan to turn the tables on Ed by hacking the hacker and turning his own world into a nightmare. The result is a cat-and-mouse game between Regan and Ed that escalates to a violent final confrontation between the two antagonists.
Hemmings is “Alfred the Great” in the epic story of the legendary Saxon King.
The film opens as Alfred is about to take his vows as a priest when the Danes
invade to pillage and rape their way across England. Michael York is Guthrum,
the Viking leader of the invaders. After fierce battles, the Saxons and Danes form
a truce and Alfred agrees to Guthrum’s additional terms; swapping hostages.
Guthrum picks Alfred’s wife, Aelhswith (Prunella Ransome), as hostage and takes
her with him across the English Channel to Denmark.
Viking scenes are played for every last ounce of lusty Pagan Medieval violence
and gusto. A relaxing night out with Vikings is no stop at your local coffee
shop. Axe tossing games, knife fights and rape ensue in the great hall while
Guthrum cheers on the Viking good times. Aelhswith retreats to her room to be
with her baby and handmaid, but she’s followed by Guthrum who rapes, though
ultimately she willing accepts him as her lover.
back in England, Alfred continues his struggle to unify the warring Saxons
under his leadership. Alfred is literally wallowing in the mud, surviving along
with his closest associates as they find allies in thieves and other common
folks who are eager to join him against the local barons. They develop tactics
and after savage battles with the feuding kingdoms and form an alliance under
Alfred’s leadership just as an invading fleet of Danes is seen approaching
through the mist-covered river. Another
great battle between Saxons and Danes ensues and Alfred is reunited with his
wife and child. The movie is a serviceable epic, but it’s lacking in several
areas. For one thing, the casting is off. Michael York has far more charisma in
every scene than David Hemmings. The movie would have benefited if York had
played Alfred and Hemmings Guthrum. There’s very little in the way of chemistry
between Hemmings and Ransome and it was entirely predictable that Aelhswith would
become enthused about being Guthrum’s lover.
movie marked the second big screen
appearance, of Sir Ian McKellen who would gain fame in many roles including the
fantasy Tolkien Middle Earth series as Gandolph. The movie also features appearances by
other familiar and up-and-coming actors like Colin Blakely as Asher, Peter
Vaughan as Burrud, Julian Glover as AEthelstan (try and say that name fast
three times) and Vivien Merchant as Freda. For some reason Merchant does not
speak a single word in spite of her prominent role in the movie. According to
critic Pauline Kael, who was no fan of this film, Merchant may have refused to
say her lines because the dialog was unspeakable.
wanted to like the movie, but it isn’t one of those films you yearn to watch
more than once or twice in a lifetime. It has its moments, but lacks the
grandeur you might expect in a film about Alfred the Great. Why was Alfred so great? You’ll have to find
out on your own because you won’t know after watching this biopic.
the Great” was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in summer of 1969 and shown in
some territories in an extravagant roadshow presentation with the 35mm format
blown up to 70mm. The Warner Archive DVD transfer is good and clocks in at 122
minutes with the trailer as the only extra. Recommended primarily for fans of
British historical epics.
The beginning of
Nicholas Ray’s The Savage Innocents—by
no means the most typical or best film from this iconoclastic director—touts
the ethnographic appeal of its Inuit focus. With debatable accuracy, the 1960
international coproduction illuminates, in somewhat superficial fashion, a “race
of nomads” called “The Men.” The narrator says we call them Eskimos,
individuals who live a life of ostensible simplicity “in the age of the atom
bomb.” For a good portion of the movie, this is the basic premise, in terms of
theme and (loose) narrative. It is a fictional, cursory study of a small and select
segment of this Arctic population. On the outside looking in, there is a fundamental
crudity in their behavior, their stilted English dialogue, their purity and
naiveté, and the animalistic manners and utterances of main character Inuk
(Anthony Quinn). But try as it might to make this all academically engaging or
exotically entertaining (the narrator’s classroom recitation only hampers the enthusiasm),
Ray’s film—and it scarcely seems like a Nicholas Ray film—is generally burdened
by a stale, shallow depiction of the region’s inhabitants as they carry on
their day-to-day existence
Based on Hans
Rüesch’s 1950 novel “Top of the World,” with the adaptation credited to Rüesch,
Franco Solinas, and Baccio Bandini and the screenplay credit to Ray, this
episodic film inserts transitory snippets of Inuit life into a rough indigenous
portrait, with most early scenes revolving around Inuk as he seeks someone he
can “laugh” with (an ethnic euphemism for intercourse). In this sexist,
patriarchal society, submissive brides are bartered for like the coat of
freshly slaughtered seal, and once obtained, they are met with particular expectations
and responsibilities. Eventually, Inuk settles on Asiak, played by the Japanese
actress Yôko Tani (apparently one non-Caucasian ethnicity is as good as the
next). However truthful this representation may be, the decidedly inequitable
nature of the courtship makes for obnoxious viewing, especially given the
foolhardy nature of Inuk’s marital quest. Forgiving the mannered discourse of
he and the other characters, what keeps this principal portion of The Savage Innocents watchable is Quinn
and his full-bodied, committed performance. Already a three-time Oscar nominee,
and winner twice, his is a wildly animated, energetic exhibition, like a crude
hybrid of caveman and one of the beasts that roam this frozen terrain (and
supposedly, his performance served as the inspirational impetus for Bob Dylan’s
1967 song “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn”)).
In addition to the
relationship wrangling, The Savage
Innocents touches upon the natural perils of its hostile environment and
provides a glimpse at the population’s traditions and toils, from hunting
tactics to the structural design of domesticated igloos. As the men revel in
boorish roughhousing and hearty laughter (real laughter, that is, which grows
so forceful it’s rather off-putting), the film essentially unfolds in a series
of incidents with no clear objective. Where the picture picks up is when this intermittent
cultural sketch shifts to a genuinely suspenseful scenario. Into the world of
the White man, Inuk and his kind reveal their gullibility, first seen in
dangerous firearm fascination and later, more comically if still cruelly, when
they are exposed to alcohol and pop music (including a song about an iceberg,
of course). Via the local missionary (Marco Guglielmi), Inuk is also introduced
to Christianity. “The Lord be with you,” says the priest upon greeting Inuk and
Asiak. No, it’s just them, answers Inuk in a literal interpretation of the
apparent question. Unfortunately, a further misunderstanding results in Inuk
accidentally murdering the priest (“His head was too soft”) and subsequently
getting arrested (one of the local troopers is played by a pre-Lawrence Peter O’Toole, who for some
reason had his voice dubbed by an uncredited American actor).
If I were to sum up my view
of “The Thin Red Line” in one phrase, it would be; “Stream of Consciousness Filmmaking.”
I don’t think I’m alone in my reaction to director Terrence Malick’s 1998 take
on the Battle of Guadalcanal, one of the bloodiest conflicts in the Pacific
front during WWII. The narrative follows Private Witt (Jim Caviezel), who has
gone AWOL with Private Hoke (Will Wallace) and is living among the native
people on one of the Solomon Islands. The men are shown living peacefully among
these people who have welcomed and accepted them. They are soon repatriated
after an American troop carrier cruises to the island, presumably looking for
them. Witt faces his First Sergeant Edward Welsh (Sean Penn), who assigns him
to a disciplinary unit as a stretcher bearer in lieu of a courts martial.
The movie narrative flows
like a summer breeze through tall grass on a sunny day. Calm scenes of the men crawling
and hunkering down at the base of a grassy hill as they attempt to take out a
Japanese machine gun emplacement are interrupted by the chaos of bullets buzzing
like bees as men are killed and wounded in an attempt to take the high ground
and kill the Japanese. Capt. James “Bugger” Staros (Elias Koteas) is ordered by
Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte) to take the hill, but after heavy losses he
refuses to send any more of his men. Tall is relentless screaming in his orders
to Staros via radio until he replaces him with Capt. John Gaff (John Cusak) who
eventually takes the hill with the help of Hoke and Welsh.
Long passages of silence
interspersed with scenes of beauty and ugliness are juxtaposed with scenes of men
crying out in fear, pain and death. Scenes flash back to Witt with his mother
and girlfriend before he departs for service in the Army, then switch to the
thoughts of men contemplating the battle before them and the actions of others
in their chain of command. The thoughts of these men at war range from the
longing for peace and the necessity to sacrifice to what actions will result in
promotions and medals. Witt represents the longing for home and the need to
return to a life before the horrors of war.
It’s hard to tell exactly whose
story is being told as the story's arch switches from character to character.
We hear their thoughts and see the movie’s action through their eyes and facial
expressions, often in close-up, switching to long moments with no dialog and
scenes depicting the natural sounds and surroundings on the island. In some
ways this is the story of the island itself with the ugliness of a crocodile
emerging from the green algae covered pond as the soldiers cross into enemy
territory juxtaposed with beautiful scenes of flowing river water on the eve of
a destructive battle. Most of the narrative is that of Witt, the thoughtful
soldier and Tall, the glory seeking commander, but it’s not that clear cut as
the narrative style is alternately complex or simple depending on ones point of view. The
movie is not for everyone, especially those who prefer a solid and traditional
narrative structure. It’s filled with a cast of recognizable actors, most in
supporting roles, carefully cross-stitched into the narrative structure.
One of my favorite scenes in
the film (it’s hard to pick one) is a light scene at the end of the movie when
Capt. Charles Bosche (George Clooney) arrives to take command of the men after
they take the hill. He describes his role as the father and the First Sergeant
Welsh (Penn) as the mother, much to the chagrin of Welsh. It’s a funny moment
which helps to ease us to the end of the movie’s narrative structure. They are
the thin red line between the battlefield and civilization and the metaphor of
the family structure is as true for those serving in the military as it is at
The movie was released in
1998 and was the first film directed by Terrence Malick since “Days of Heaven”
in 1978. Both movies have a similar narrative structure, but “The Thin Red
Line” creates something far more complex in what is arguably a far superior
film to “Days of Heaven.” Other directors have had long gaps between the
release of their films, most notably Stanley Kubrick, David Lean and Sergio
Leone. Like those directors, Malick would spend lengthy periods preparing and
editing his movies.
The movie was released by
20th Century Fox in late December of 1998 and released on DVD the following
year. The DVD is bare bones except for a selection of songs by the Melanesian
people depicted in the movie. The picture quality is outstanding in a beautiful
2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and the movie clocks in at 170 minutes. For
those seeking to delve more deeply into this movie, I would recommend the
Director Approved Criterion Collection Blu-ray released in 2010 which includes
an audio commentary, outtakes (the movie was edited down from four hours), documentaries,
the trailer and a booklet essay. Either version is recommended depending on the
viewer’s interest in this movie.
Though often dismissed as a low-budget “Made for TV”
feature, director Franklin Adreon’s Cyborg
2087 enjoyed a brief theatrical run prior to its debut on broadcast television
in March of 1968. In April of 1967 the
film was packaged alongside such similarly low-budgeted, independent features
as Death Curse of Tartu, Sting of Death, and even a second Adreon
“time travel” themed film, Dimension 5.
Though this somewhat lackluster film seemed
destined for relegation to the late-night drive-in horror movie circuit, Cyborg 2087 nonetheless displayed some
small measure of staying power. That
same summer, Adreon’s film was still making the rounds of the secondary flea-pit
theater circuit, sometimes serving as the under bill to Sidney J. Furie’s contemporary
political thriller The Naked Runner
featuring Frank Sinatra.
Though he had worked on serials and a handful of feature
films in the early stages of his career, director Adreon was laboring almost
exclusively in television by the mid-1950s. Cyborg 2087 does appear as
something cobbled together both inexpensively and hastily for the small
screen. The initial tipoff is the film’s
lackluster and visually non-appealing set designs. Cyborg
2087 is a film visually hobbled by poor production values due to the
paucity of budget. The futuristic
control room seen briefly at the film’s beginning is non-imaginatively designed
and unusually threadbare, missing nearly all of the electronic baubles and
flashing accoutrements one might expect. The film’s optical effects are practically non-existent and the
occasional appearance and disappearance of Garth 7’s Star Base 7 space-time traveling capsule are not impressive at
all. In fact they’re less innovative than
those of the camera tricks employed by cinema pioneer Georges Méliès in 1902.
For a science-fiction film, a good portion of the movie’s
daylight scenes are shot incongruously on an obvious “Old West” Hollywood
set. Director Adreon was either pressed
for time or simply didn’t have the skill to compose shots that made the best
use of the ghost town’s obvious clapboard facades. The fact that the buildings lining the
streets of Desert City are little more than mock-ups are made apparent by the sight
of mountain range vistas peeking out directly from the windows. Cinematographer Alan Stensvold’s photography
is curiously flat throughout, and he has the bad habit of illuminating the
film’s nighttime scenes with a giant, hot-white spotlight. This slapdash method of lighting blows out any
mystery the darkness might portend and casts heavy, non-impressionistic shadows
in every direction. The too-talkative screenplay
of Arthur C. Pierce, his resume of low-budget sci-fi melodramas already duly
established, does attempt to dish out a few thoughtful and interesting ideas,
but they’re never imaginatively mounted. This is a science-fiction title offering little in the way of suspense or
Though the script is admittedly not Shakespearean in its
construction, it still might have worked if the performances of the assembled troupe
of actors didn’t range from merely adequate to painfully woeful. Though Michael Rennie’s character, Garth 7,
appears stiff and non-emotive throughout, I’m willing to give him a pass… he’s
a Cyborg, after all, a non-human “Cybernetic Organism.” With his silver space boots, matching pistol
belt, but otherwise bland service mechanic’s overalls, the lanky Garth 7 cuts a
particularly un-dashing figure, save for an impressive brush of silver hair atop
his cranium. While he does carry a
semi-cool ray gun in his holster, the pistol he’s saddled with can only temporarily
paralyze targets, not kill them. If
nothing else, this is good news for the nostalgic whiskey drinkers and their
attendant German shepherd who re-visit the ruins of the derelict “Lucky Dollar
Casino and Dance Hall” of Desert City. Conversely,
Garth 7’s futuristic pistol is a useless weapon against the very folks he needs
most disarm: a pair of Cyborg “Tracers” who have followed him from 2087 on a
mission to eradicate him.
It’s here where we get to the crux of it. Garth 7 has time-traveled from the year 2087
back to April 1966 in an effort to get the professorial Dr. Sigmund Marx (Eduard
Franz) and his assistant Sharon Mason (Karen Steele) to abandon their
groundbreaking and militarily useful research in the field of radio
telepathy. If only Garth 7 can convince Dr.
Marx to do this, the impending totalitarian society of 2087 that will arise
from the invention’s misuse can be averted. Garth 7 grimly warns - with the foresight time travel has allowed him - that
the “Warlords of tomorrow will use radio telepathy for evil purposes.” He assures that the domestic political
situation is pretty bad in 2017… Um, I mean 2087, as the military has
effectively misused radio telepathy to control the thoughts of the populace. Independent “free-thinkers” are punished and even
children are cruelly snatched from the arms of their mothers and made instant wards
of the State.
It’s hard to decide if David O. Selznick’s “Duel in the
Sun” is a work of twisted genius, or just the worst, corniest, unconsciously
hilarious movie ever made. It hovers in a weird place somewhere between a
Eugene O’Neill tragedy and a sketch that Carol Burnett might have come up with
on her old TV show. Remember when she lampooned Gone with the Wind? She came
down the staircase in a gown made from the curtains that used to hang on the
window, complete with curtain rod draped across her shoulders? There are scenes
in “Duel in the Sun” that are unintentionally almost as funny as that.
Based on a Niven Bush potboiler and directed by King
Vidor (along with several others), the film tells the tale of half-breed femme
fatale Pearl Chavez, a woman whose passion and hopes for a better life are
doomed by her heritage and a script straight out of a soap opera. Selznick cast
Jennifer Jones, who was his paramour at the time, as Pearl, hoping to duplicate
with her the success he had with Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with
the Wind.” Jones gives it everything she’s got, in a performance that is
fascinating, even entrancing at times, but occasionally so over the top that,
occasionally, you can’t help snickering.
The story begins with a sequence that was actually directed
by William Dieterle after the production was finished. Selznick felt that some
explanation of Pearl’s provocative sex-pot behavior was needed in order to make
her a more sympathetic character. Vidor refused to return to return to direct
the additional scenes after already having been through numerous reshoots
during production. Herbert Marshall was added to the cast to play Pearl’s
father, a refined, educated man caught in a humiliating marriage to a wild Native
American woman. Pearl witnesses her father’s murder of her mother when he
catches her with another man. Before he is hanged, he arranges for Pearl to go
live with Laura Belle McCanles (Lilian Gish), a refined woman he once loved and
who is now married to Sen. Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore), owner of Spanish
Bit, one of the biggest ranches in Texas.
When she arrives, Pearl discovers the McCanleses have two
sons, one good and the other a downright dirty dog. I guess you could say if the
McCanles ranch were the Garden of Eden, Laura Belle and Jackson would be Adam and
Eve, and Lewt (Gregory Peck) and Jesse (Joseph Cotten) would be Cain and Abel.
But what does that make Pearl? Joseph Cotten is well cast as the honest,
upright, dutiful Jesse. He’s been to college and is a lawyer. He likes Pearl
quite a bit. And she seems to like him until she lays eyes on the tall
handsome, cold hearted Lewt. Why Gregory Peck was chosen to play Lewt will
remain a mystery for all time. He is totally out of his element as the senator’s
favorite son. He’s called on to treat Pearl like dirt. He slaps her around,
forces her to swim all day in a pond without any clothes on until it gets dark,
and finally forces himself on her. Sorry. I just don’t see Atticus Finch doing
something like that, but I guess everybody has a dark side.
There’s a big plot element that comes into the story
about a third of the way through. The railroad wants a right of way through
Sen. Jackson’s land, and, dang it, he ain’t about to give up one inch of
Spanish Bit. There’s a showdown with the rail workers, and when Jesse refuses
to order McCanles men to fire on them, the senator calls him a traitor and
orders him off the ranch. So that leaves Pearl alone with Lewt, and try as she
might to be the respectable young woman her father wanted her to be—a woman like
Laura Belle—she can’t help being obsessively attracted to Lewt. He messes
around with her, but when she tries to get him to marry her, he won’t, because
his father is an Indian-hating racist and would disown him if he did.
Well, there’s a lot of agonizing and squirming around as
Jennifer Jones climbs all over the scenery. Even Gish and Barrymore reach
various levels of melodramatic absurdity. In one scene the old blowhard senator
goes into a long monologue about the night he almost lost her to Pearl’s father
and how he rode all night to get back to her. Meanwhile, she’s lying in bed
listening, sick with some fatal disease. Moved by his sudden emotional outburst,
she sits up and reaches out to him. The senator keeps rambling on as only a
Barrymore can, oblivious to her condition, until finally Laura Bell falls out of bed flat on her face on the floor. Can’t you just see Tim Conway
and Vicki Lawrence doing that scene on The Carol Burnett Show?
From all of this you might think this is a movie to be
avoided. But that’s not actually the case. Despite its being referred to in the
annals of movie history as “Lust in the Dust,” there are some rare moments of
insane brilliance. The movie ends with one of the most talked about scenes in
movies. Pearl and Lewt, dying of their twisted love for each other at the foot
of Squaw Head Rock, is unconventional and almost beyond anything you could say
about it. Martin Scorsese says “Duel in the Sun” was the first movie he ever
saw and you can see the obvious influence it had on one of today’s most
Kino Lorber’s KL Studio Classics Blu-ray release includes
the roadshow version of the film with Dimitri Tiomkin’s prelude, overture and
exit music. There are other extras, including audio commentary by film
historian Gaylyn Studlar, interviews with Celia, Carey and Anthony Peck, as
well as a trailer gallery. It’s quite a package and quite a film.
The German video company Explosive Media has released a number of impressive western titles, among them: "Night Passage", a top-notch 1957 western showcasing James Stewart and a terrific supporting cast. The film was to be yet another collaboration between Stewart and director Anthony Mann but things fell apart when Audie Murphy was cast as Stewart's brother. Mann objected, saying he found their physical differences too unbelievable for that concept and felt the film would be undermined by the casting. Mann dropped out and television director James Neilson took over the troubled production. Neilson was able to exploit the wonders of Technirama, a short-lived widescreen process that was competing with CinemaScope in an attempt to lure increasingly prosperous Americans away from their new television sets and get them back into movie theaters. The screenplay was by the estimable Borden Chase. adapting a story from The Saturday Evening Post, as he had done for Howard Hawks' 1948 masterwork "Red River".
In "Night Passage", James Stewart plays Grant McLaine, a middle-aged drifter and cowpoke who had once been hired by the railroad to thwart a string of robberies committed by the Utica Kid (Audey Murphy), who is later revealed to be McLaine's kid brother. Seems that the railroad boss Ben Kimball (J.C. Flippen) became steamed when McLaine allowed the Utica Kid to escape on one occasion, though he did not know the two men were brothers. Kimball was convinced that McLaine and the Kid were in cahoots and fired McLaine. Now a new series of payroll robberies is occurring on the transport train with dismaying regularity. Kimball rehires McLaine, though he still harbors suspicions about him being in collusion with the Utica Kid and his gang. In fact, the Kid is indeed with a new gang, but this time it's run by Whitey Harbin (Dan Duryea), a cold blooded thief and killer who is plotting another robbery of a payroll shipment. McLaine ensures he is aboard the train, but he has secreted the payroll money on himself. When the gang boards the train after devising a way to waylay the security guards, they find no money in the safe- so they take Kimball's wife Verna (Elaine Stewart) hostage until they are paid the $10,000 in payroll funds. Meanwhile, McLaine finds himself caring for a precious pre-teen orphan boy, Joey Adams (Brandon DeWilde), who helped him hide the payroll money when the crooks boarded the train. The rest of the film follows McLaine as he tracks the gang to their hideout and has a rather tense reunion with his brother, who ignores his pleas to quit his career in crime. The entire affair ends with an exciting shootout at an abandoned mine camp that pits the two brothers on opposite sides.
"Night Passage" wasn't well-received by either critics or audiences back in the day, but watching the film now, it's pleasures become obvious. Stewart is in fine form and gets excellent support from the aforementioned co-stars. The film is peppered with many familiar faces including Jack Elam, Paul Fix and Ellen Corby. Dianne Foster is a beautiful tom boy who has a crush on the Utica Kid. Of interest to retro T.V. fans are the appearances of two future legendary sitcom dads, Herbert Anderson ("Dennis the Menace") and Hugh Beaumont ("Leave It to Beaver") in dramatic roles. As for Anthony Mann's concerns about the casting of Audie Murphy, it works well enough. The two iconic actors share some genuine chemistry and their age difference is far less preposterous that that of 48 year-old John Wayne playing the older brother to 22 year-old Michael Anderson Jr. in another fine Western, "The Sons of Katie Elder". It should be said that the film's most riveting performance is by Dan Duryea, playing against type as a loud, crude and brutal bad guy. He steals every scene he is in. Dimitri Tiomkin provides one of his typically rousing scores and the cinematography by William Daniels captures the grandeur of the California and Colorado locations.
One of the lobby cards featured in the photo gallery section.
The Explosive Media presentation is superb. The transfer is flawless and stunning in its beauty. As usual, the company has provided some interesting extras in addition to the trailer. They include extensive galleries of production photos and international film posters, pressbooks and lobby cards. The Blu-ray release includes tracks for both English and German language presentations. It's a pity the Explosive titles, which are all region-free, are not available outside of Germany (primarily through Amazon Deutschland) , however, they sometimes appear on eBay in other countries. This is an excellent presentation of a very underrated film.
year marked the 100th anniversary of one of the bloodiest battles in history,
the Battle of Verdun, fought through most of 2016 from 21 February to 18
December on the French border with Germany. “Verdun, Looking at History”
chronicles the story of the Battle of Verdun through the eyes of those who
fought there. Part documentary and part drama, it was shot on location between
1927 and 1928 a decade after the battle by French filmmaker Leon Poirier with
assistance from veterans who fought there and may well be one of the first
Battle of Verdun was one of the largest battles of WWI, lasting nearly a year
and resulting in an estimated one million casualties with about one third of
that number representing those killed. The French and German armies fought the
battle on the Western Front in the Northeast part of France near the border
with Belgium and Germany where the bombardment began after breakfast and ceased
by dinner time each day. The German’s goal was to inflict heavy casualties on
the French in order to drive them to surrender. The German plan ultimately
failed as the French held out, but the countryside was devastated by the
continuous and heavy artillery bombardments in such a small area for nearly a
year. The physical scars on the countryside are still present in the area to
hit a low point among the French during the summer of the battle. French
soldiers were indeed summarily executed for “collective indiscipline” and were forbidden
from surrendering. Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 classic “Paths of Glory” gives one a
sense of the absurdity of such military policies. In May of that year a French lieutenant
at Verdun wrote, "Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do what it is doing.
What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to
translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!"
say the emotional and physical scars resulting from the Battle of Verdun, both
on the people, the landscape and the French military, had an impact on the
French people goes without saying. The movie touches the surface of the impact
war has on those who fought and died and survived. It visualizes this for us,
but as is the case with all art, it gives us a taste of how those lives were affected
so we can experience a small part of it.
in the movie are identified generically through inter-title cards as “A French
Soldier,” “A German Soldier,” “A Mother,” “A Farmer,” “A daughter” and “A
General.” You get the idea. While we do not know the characters by name, I feel
like Poirier was trying to make each character the face for a thousand other real
people drawn in to this battle. His use of low angle shots in the recreated
battle shots with the camera literally in the trenches as soldiers crawl
through the mud really draws the viewer in.
movie moves between shots of the German generals and soldiers planning battle
strategies, the French soldiers planning and defending and the civilians as
they evacuate or say goodbye to family and sweethearts before joining the fight.
Shots of maps and inter-titles explaining communications help move the story,
but in an almost documentary style. Divided into three parts; “Might,” “Hell,”
and “Fate;” the 151 minute movie is an epic masterpiece of not only French
cinema, but in movie history.
DVD from Carlotta Films for this release contains three fascinating documentary supplements, all in
French with English subtitles. The first, “Restoring ‘Verdun,’” is 13 minutes
and recounts the interesting history of this film which was nearly lost until prints
were discovered in Russian film archives. The Germans confiscated all prints of
this movie and many others during the occupation of France in WWII. At the end of the war, the
Russians brought this and many other movies back to Russia from Germany, storing
them in their film archives. The battle footage recreated by Leon Poirier was
so realistic that it was used in many documentaries and movies over the years to
represent actual WWI combat footage. Poirier served in the French army at
Verdun which accounts for the accurate depiction of the battle. The Germans are
not depicted as caricatures of evil, but rather the movie is a statement on the
horror of war and becomes one of the earliest cinematic anti-war films.
Poirier’s filmmaking style was influenced by contemporaries D.W. Griffith,
Cecil B. DeMille and Sergei Eisenstein.
second feature, “Visions of ‘Verdun,’” is an 18- minute discussion by several French
cinema historians on the battle, the restoration, the music and the impact of
the movie and the battle on French culture and cinema. The final supplement is
a 29- minute documentary, “The French Take Their Revenge in Verdun”, created
using archive footage edited by the Film Department of the French Army in 1916.
released on 8 Nov 1928 near the 10th anniversary of the end of WWI, the movie
was rescued and restored in 2006 by La Cinematheque de Toulouse and this 2014 DVD
release by Carlotta Films US looks beautiful. The timing of the projection
speed is perfect and the inter-titles, including animated maps of the battle
front, were restored with English subtitles which aid the non French speakers
in appreciating this movie made in the pre-sound era. No silent film was ever
truly silent and this movie is no exception. It is filled with sound effects and music, which
was typical of the silent era. The piano score from the original release was newly
recorded for the restoration and cues on the sheet music aided in the proper
movies are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but as a snapshot of the
origins of cinema, this movie is well worth a look. The narrative style and
realism is certainly ahead of its time in this landmark film. Well worth a look
for fans of military history and classic cinema fans.
between his debut feature (1970’s The
Bird with the Crystal Plumage, which had enjoyed unprecedented success with
American audiences) and the equally excellent Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Dario Argento’s The Cat O’Nine Tails (o.t. Il
Gatto a Nova Code) is disappointingly inferior to both in almost every
respect. Despite this, almost everything with the director’s name on it –
emphasis on almost (and up until the mid-90s
at least) – is streets ahead of anything in a similar vein, so I hesitate to be
too hard on it.
Arno (Karl Malden), a former newspaper journalist forced into retirement when
he lost his sight, now lives with his niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) and earns
a crust compiling crossword puzzles. Out walking one evening, they pass a car
parked up outside an institute involved in genetic experimentation and sharp-eared
Arno overhears a snippet of suspicious conversation between the occupants.
Later the same night the place is burgled. A chance encounter with reporter
Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), who’s been sent to cover the story, results
in Arno assisting him to investigate the break-in. But when people associated
with the institute begin to die it seems that the burglar is prepared to kill
to obfuscate what he was up to…and Arno and Giordani realise they’ve stupidly
placed themselves in his crosshairs!
raise a hand here and confess that despite my admiration for Dario Argento’s
work and having seen most of his films on multiple occasions, of his pre-1990s
output The Cat O’Nine Tails is the
one I’ve watched least. Possibly only a couple of times in fact. As such it’s
one with which I’m not so familiar. With the arrival of a new Blu-Ray release
from Arrow Video I sat down to reacquaint myself with it for the first time in
several years and it all came back to me as to why I’ve not visited it often. On paper at least the script by
Argento and Dardano Sacchetti lays out all the key ingredients for a tasty
cocktail, so there’s little faulting it in that respect. But whereas the
director’s best gialli pivot on a burgeoning sense of urgency derived from the
misinterpretation of a witnessed moment, or perhaps a half-remembered clue,
this one’s a surprisingly sedate affair. Additionally, the film lacks the
outlandish plot, stylish camerawork and brutal murder sequences of its 70s
stablemates – never mind that it’s also missing a deliciously unhinged killer
lurking behind a veneer of respectability – and, let’s be honest, broadly
speaking it’s the canny employ of these elements in his pictures that helped
build Argento his fan base.
frivolous note too, anyone going in with title-engendered anticipation of a
kinky sequence involving a dominatrix wielding said implement will come away
disappointed; as an analogy, The Living
Daylights springs to mind insomuch as, just as that film’s nonsensical title
(from the perspective of audiences unfamiliar with Fleming) was dealt with in a
single throwaway line, so The Cat O’Nine
Tails is incorporated into a frankly silly remark by Giordani.
though, all these factors notwithstanding, perhaps most injurious of all is the
fact the movieis ponderously slow, more
methodical mystery-solver than knuckle-whitening chiller.
my remark about those mundane murder scenes, with the exception of a well-staged
sequence when the killer dispatches a witness to his crimes by shoving him off
a station platform and under the wheels of an incoming locomotive, they really
do lack creativity. The absence of unflinchingly gruesome set pieces akin to
those in the like of Deep Red and Tenebrae is keenly felt; I’m afraid a
few garrotTings and an attempted poisoning with a carton of milk (no, really!) fail dismally to cut the
mustard. That said, there are some memorably unnerving close-ups of the
killer’s twitching eyeball as he sights out each victim and at least he himself
gets a suitably wince-inducing comeuppance.
Franciscus, fresh off of Beneath the
Planet of the Apes, makes Giordani a decent enough heroic lead, although
for my money he’s overshadowed where characterisation is concerned by a top-form
Karl Malden as Arno, conveying the sightless gaze of a blind man impeccably. If
anything makes the film work it’s the
chemistry between these two actors. So good are they together in fact that I’d
rather like to have seen Giordani and Arno team up on another investigation. In
any event, notable among the rest of the cast are Catherine Spaak (loveliness
incarnate as Giordani’s love interest) and little Cinzia De Carolis as Arno’s
devoted “seeing eyes”.
The Universal Vault series of made-on-demand DVDs has released "The Secret War of Harry Frigg", a long overlooked and largely forgotten 1968 WWII comedy starring Paul Newman. The film''s release was sandwiched in Newman's career during a particularly productive time following the releases of "Cool Hand Luke" (which gained him an Oscar nomination), the critically acclaimed western "Hombre", his directorial debut with "Rachel, Rachel" (4 Oscar nominations) and his mega-hit "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". "Frigg" is a completely lightweight affair done on the cheap with California locations substituting for Italy. The film casts Newman in his trademark role as an anti-Establishment wiseguy. When we first see him, he's a lowly private serving in Italy at the height of the Allied invasion. Frigg is a malcontent whose rebellious nature results in him spending most of his time in the brig. He's gained a reputation as an escape artist but never succeeds in staying free for very long. Frigg is summoned to meet General Homer Prentiss (James Gregory), who offers him an audacious deal. Seems that five Allied generals were captured by Italian troops in a Turkish bath. The Allies can't afford them to be interrogated for long and Prentiss wants Frigg to parachute behind enemy lines posing as a general in the hopes that he, too, will be captured. The scheme is to have Frigg imprisoned with the other generals and then develop an escape plan for all of them. Frigg agrees after working out some perks he will get from carrying out the high-risk plot. Upon landing in Italy, he is summarily captured as planned. He is taken to a lavish country villa where the other generals are being held. Frigg is pleasantly surprised to find that the Italian officer who serves as a warden, Col. Ferrucci (Vito Scotti), is a likeable, charming man who treats his prisoners as honored guests and lavishes them with amenities. Still, the real generals impose upon Frigg, who they think is their superior officer, to orchestrate an escape plan. However, Frigg becomes accustomed to Ferrucci's constant supply of gourmet food, fine wine and expensive cigars. He is even more enamored when he meets the owner of the villa, a beautiful countess named Francesca (Sylva Koscina). Frigg discovers a secret passageway that leads outside the compound but which also conveniently goes into Francesca's bedroom. Before long, he's also enjoying plenty of sexual perks. By the time Frigg is motivated to actually plan an escape, it's too late. An German officer (Werner Peters) arrives at the villa to announce that Italy has just surrendered and that German troops will now occupy positions formally held by Italian troops. He summarily takes charge of the prisoners and also arrests the hapless Ferrucci, who ironically had just been promoted to the rank of general. The group is taken from luxurious surroundings to a harsh prison camp where they are monitored constantly and deterred from escape by an electrified fence and a mine field. Nevertheless, Frigg is unfazed and sets about planning his most ambitious escape.
in Year Zero! rolls out calmly in a Leave it to Beaver 1950’s idyll, the four member Baldwin family readying
an early four A.M. start for their much anticipated camping and fishing vacation. It doesn’t look much like four swipes past midnight,
despite the groggy time-checking complaint of teenage son Rick Baldwin (Frankie
Avalon). The sun, in fact, is high and
shining brightly overhead as the family loads themselves into their sleek Mercury
Monterey hitched to a shiny Kenskilltrailer
home. Rick’s parents, his saturnine
father Harry (Ray Milland) and doting mother Ann (Jean Hagen), ignore their
son’s sleepy protestations and they all climb merrily into the car along with
sister Karen (Mary Mitchel).
The family vacation is spoiled some two hours later when,
while driving into the mountains to their Shibes Meadow campground destination,
a blinding flash of light and a sonic boom sounds behind them. The family scampers out of their car to
witness a giant billowing mushroom cloud plume upwards toward the heavens. There’s little doubt in their minds that the
unthinkable has transpired. There’s an
interim when all communication with the outside world has been lost; the family
is even unable to receive messages via the Conelrad civilian alert radio
system, the Cold War era’s preferred conduit of emergency broadcasts. When they are finally able to receive news
via their car’s AM radio, they’re not surprised - but still horrified - to
learn that all of Los Angeles and its “surrounding areas” have been irradiated
in a nuclear attack.
The family soon learns via a second radio bulletin that
Los Angeles is not the only U.S. city to lie smoldering in ruin. New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia have also
been similarly attacked, as have the capitol cities of Rome, London, and
Paris. We’re never told exactly who is
responsible for these reprehensible sneak atomic weapon attacks, but since its
1962, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume the Godless Commies were behind it
all. Interestingly, or perhaps
prophetically, Panic in Year Zero!
was released to cinemas in the summer of 1962, only a few months preceding the Khrushchev
vs. Kennedy nuclear chess game that was the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Unlike most pure entertainment films that emerged from
American-International, Panic in Year
Zero! is an unrelentingly grim relic of the atomic age. Milland’s Harry Baldwin, ever the patriarchal
father, will go to any extreme to protect his family. His earliest protective measures are noble,
but he’ll soon turn completely paranoid – and commit a series of increasingly alarming
cold-blooded acts out of sheer desperation. This film, in the manner of a similarly themed sci-fi title, Stanley
Kramer’s On the Beach (1959),
concentrates not on those incinerated but instead entirely on those who have survived
a nuclear attack. The protagonists in
the film are not foreign invaders or militarists; the folks Milland is most
wary of are, sadly, his fellow citizens.
His adversaries are the similarly frightened people who, having
survived the blast, have gone mobile. Those who have piled into any moving vehicle they can commandeer to seek
some solace in the relative safety and refuge of the mountains. As he witnesses the endless parade of
automobiles streaming into the remote areas outside of Los Angeles, Baldwin doesn’t
see his fellow countrymen as scared witless refugees seeking safe haven. They are, instead, deemed potential competitors
for dwindling resources.
Baldwin switches instantly into survival mode, and is
distrustful of everyone. With the radio
reporting incidents of looting in and around the outskirts of America’s urban
areas, citizens are being instructed by the civil defense corps to seek refuge
in the fallout shelters. Baldwin decides
that his family’s chances of survival will increase exponentially if they do
the exact opposite as told. He chooses to go deeper into the mountains,
certain that “survival will have to be on an individual basis.” His soft-hearted wife disagrees with his cold-hearted
survivalist instincts, but she’s not able to sway him in his position. It’s 1962, after all, and he’s the man of the
In 1988 Oscar-winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (“In
the Heat of the Night”, “The Poseidon Adventure”) got fed up with what he
called “the eel pit of Hollywood,” and moved to Thailand to start a new life. According
to the LA Times, he’d grown tired of
the power plays, the egos, the hypocrisy and the dictum that homage must be
paid to the box office. He left and never came back.
Hollywood has always had its dark side-- just read “Hollywood
Babylon.” Silliphant’s “eel pit” was never a more apt description than when, a
few years later in 2015, the film industry was rocked by WikiLeaks release of
some really nasty Sony emails that gave a glimpse into what powerful producers and
studio execs really thought of some of their stars. Scott Rudin called Angelina
Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat.” Clint Culpepper called Kevin Hart “a
whore,” and Amy Pascal said Leonardo DiCaprio was “despicable.” And the news
coming out of Hollywood these days is even worse. Allegations of sexual
harassment up to and including rape by powerful studio heads and A-list stars are
being revealed on an almost daily basis. Careers are ending faster than they
can yank the latest multi-million dollar “blockbuster” flop out of theaters.
And somebody or somebodies may go to jail.
Over the years there have been several attempts
to document Tinseltown’s seamy underbelly on film. Movies like “The bad and the
Beautiful,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “The Last Tycoon” gave it a try with
varying degrees of success. But without doubt the most scathing portrait of La
La Land ever put on film has to be Robert Aldrich’s “The Big Knife,” (1955).
This stark film, shot in black and white and 1.85:1 widescreen, is a searing depiction
of a “half-idealist” actor caught in the clutches of a powerful, merciless
studio boss who will stop at nothing, including blackmail and murder, to get
his way. Based on a stage play by Clifford Odets, the poet laureate of the
working man, and adapted for the screen by James Poe, “The Big Knife” tells the
story of screen star Charlie Castle (Jack Palance), who is described in voice
over narration at the beginning of the film as “a man who sold his dreams but
can’t forget them.” He once had artistic aspirations as an actor, but through
his own weakness he succumbed to the lure of big money and became instead a
drunk, a womanizer, and the property of studio head Stanley Shriner Hoff (Rod
Forced to make some lousy pictures for Hoff, who
is content with making money and couldn’t care less about things like redeeming
social value or artistic integrity, Charlie sees a way out. His contract is
about to expire. Hoff wants him to sign up for seven more years, but Charlie’s
wife, Marion (Ida Lupino), insists he refuse to sign. She sees it as a matter
of survival. She has seen the steady corrosion of Charlie’s soul over the years
working for Hoff Pictures. She and Charlie have been temporarily separated on
and off for the last couple of years, but she tells him if he signs the new
contract she’ll leave for good.
Based on Odets’ stage play, most of the film
is confined to one set, the spacious play room of Charlie’s Bel Air mansion.
Aldrich and Cinematographer Ernest Laszlo, using deep focus lenses, create a
claustrophobic atmosphere, shooting from low and high angles, with lamps and
chandeliers in the foreground, conveying the terrifying sensation of the walls
closing in on Charlie, as one character after another shows up to take away
another piece of his soul.
First is columnist Patty Benedict (Ilka
Chase), a barracuda who questions why Charlie has kept Buddy, his publicity man
on the payroll after he had served several months in prison for a drunk driving
hit and run that killed a child. Charlie tells her he’s been a friend for
years, and why dig that old news up? She also noses into the state of Charlie’s
marriage. When Marion appears (Charlie unaware she had entered the house), she
tells Benedict it’s none of her business. The columnist leaves in a huff and
warns Charlie she better not read about their break up in anybody else’s
column. Charlie scolds Marion for talking to Benedict that way, and when she
rebukes his obsequious, hypocritical act with her, he replies, in typical
Odets’ fashion: “I’m in the movie business. I can’t afford your acute attacks
“The Big Knife” is loaded with hard-hitting dialogue
that probably sounds over the top today, but in the context of the film, and in
the period in which it was made—a time when filmmakers and writers like Chayefsky,
Serling, and Inge were more concerned with moral value than writers are
today—it all works. When Charlie discusses his future with his agent Nat
Danziger (Everett Sloan), he considers the meager possibilities and concludes:
“Every way is a way to die.” Later in the story, when the walls get even closer,
he picks up a bottle and tells him “I’m getting sloshed in my own mud and
neon.” In a confrontation with Hoff and his hatchet man Smiley Coy (Wendell
Corey), who try to force him to sign the new contract, he tells them: “This is
all a bleak, bitter dream, a dish of doves. You throw this mess of naked
pigeons in my face. What am I to do?”
Further pressure comes from Buddy’s wife, a
tramp who throws herself at Charlie, cold and callous, heedless of the way it
will destroy their friendship. This betrayal becomes even more brutal when the
truth that he and Buddy share regarding the hit and run accident is revealed.
Finally, there is Shelly Winters as Dixie Evans, a starlet who knows too much
about the hit and run and is seen as a threat not only by Charlie, but more
importantly by Hoff and Smiley Coy. She’s the final straw that eventually
breaks Charlie’s back. As Dixie says: “First they louse you up and then they
call you a louse.”
Wesley Addey is on hand as (Horatio “Hank”
Teagle) a writer friend of Marion and Charlie’s, who calls Charlie a
half-idealist. “Half-idealism is the peritonitis of the soul,” he tells him.
But even that friendship is tainted by the fact that Hank has asked Marion to
leave Charlie and marry him. Every straw that Charlie gasps for only pulls him
down deeper. Wendell Corey perhaps best sums up Charlie’s character when he
calls him: “The warrior minstrel with the forlorn hope.”
Vinegar Syndrome has released a special edition of the 1975 erotic film "China Girl" as a special edition Blu-ray/DVD. Before the advent of home video, hardcore movies had to rely on adult movie theaters for exhibition. Consequently, at least some attempt at achieving a level of sophistication was generally undertaken. "China Girl" is one of the more ambitious productions from this time period. The film is a quasi-James Bond thriller and the Maguffin is some nonsense about some bad people trying to steal the formula for a mind control process that is known to only a handful of scientists. The titular character is an Asian beauty named Madame Woo (Pamela Yen in her only screen credit). Woo is employed by an organization known as DRAGON that is systematically hunting down the scientists to extract the portion of the formula that they carry with them. This is achieved by subjecting them to a bizarre torture (if you want to call it that): they are tied up and sexually stimulated by a bevy of naked women until they go insane with pleasure and disclose the top secret information. U.S intelligence sources are in a panic mode because the only remaining scientist has not been compromised. She is Teresa Hardgrave (adult film legend Annette Haven) and the government sends a hunky agent, David Chase (Tom Douglass in his only credited screen role) to look after her well-being. Does he ever...Almost instantly, the two become lovers even as the plot thickens. DRAGOn has dispatched one of its top agents, torture master Y.C. Chan (James Hong) to capture Teresa, which he succeeds in doing. She is brought to the mansion house of Madame Woo, who tries to intimidate Teresa into cooperating. When she refuses do do so, Teresa is given the same "torture" the other scientists endured: she is subjected to a bisexul orgy, but emerges unscathed and very much happier. Her ability to withstand a time-tested method for extracting information infuriates Chan, who promises to use more traditional methods on Teresa, who has since been seduced by Madame Woo herself (don't ask!).
Despite some hokey elements, "China Girl" is an extremely impressive achievement in adult filmmaking during this era. The film benefits from a sizable budget which director Paolo Ucello (real name Paul Aratow) uses wisely. Much of the film features fancy hotels, expensive cars and other extravagances not usual found in a hardcore production. There are also impressive location shots in San Francisco. As for the acting, most of it is adequate or better, with Haven as wisecracking, kick ass heroine who remains nonplussed no matter what danger she is confronted by. It should be mentioned that a genuine star appears in the film: James Hong (billed here as "James Young"), an acclaimed supporting actor whose credits include such stellar productions as "The Sand Pebbles", "Blade Runner" and "Kung Fu Panda". Hong keeps his clothes on throughout and his presence lends an air of further respectability to the film. The sex scenes are intermittent, as the story takes prominence, but they are well-staged and highly erotic. The Vinegar Syndrome is outstanding on all levels. The film's previous DVD release by another company was said to be awful and Vinegar Syndrome has come to the rescue. The release includes a recent audio interview with Annette Haven, who comes across as an intelligent, likable lady. She states that she felt she elevated the quality of the adult films she starred in by presenting the sex scenes in a manner that would appeal to couples. She insisted that some of the coarser "money shot" elements of the genre would not appear in her films. Haven's talents extend to her ability to provide a good performance in terms of screen acting and she went on to have some success in mainstream movies before retiring from the industry. The Vinegar Syndrome release also includes the original trailer and reversible sleeve art. The discs are also region-free and can be played internationally.
Time/Life has released the entire "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" series in a boxed set. Here is the press release:
“Before there was “Saturday Night Live” there was “Rowan
& Martin’s Laugh-In.”*
Hosted by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, this
groundbreaking variety show was a fast-moving barrage of jokes, one-liners,
running skits, and musical numbers.
A group of regulars--Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Jo
Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Judy Carne, Alan Sues,
Chelsea Brown, and Gary Owens--plus frequent guests like Barbara Feldon,
Flip Wilson and Don Rickles left a lasting impression on America.
To celebrate Laugh-In’s 50th Anniversary, the
Complete Series is now available for the first time ever on DVD.
Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete
Series includes every episode from all six seasons, including
exclusive new bonus features and a free DVD. You’ll get:
140 episodes from all six seasons on 38 DVDs, all
available together for the first time ever, and only right here
The Pilot Episode which originally aired September
An exclusive bonus DVD and exclusive bonus features
only available in this collection including the 25th Anniversary Cast
Reunion, Bloopers, plus interviews with Lily Tomlin, Executive Producer and
Creator, George Schlatter, Dick Martin, Gary Owens, Ruth Buzzi, and many
Guest stars include Tim Conway, Bob
Newhart, Debbie Reynolds, Liberace, Raquel Welch, Sammy
Davis, Jr., Jonathan Winters, Carol Channing, The Monkees, Sonny
and Cher, Barbara Feldon, Bobby Darin, Diana Ross, James
Garner, Michael Landon, Steve Lawrence, Flip Wilson, Don
Rickles and more!
All DVDs housed in a deluxe collector’s box
Plus, you’ll receive Laugh-In Memories, a Collectible
Memory Book filled with jokes, pictures from the show,
behind-the-scenes photos, and a note from producer and creator, George
By the mid-1950s Burt Lancaster was one of the biggest stars in the world. He used his clout to form his own production company so that he would not be chained to exclusive contracts with specific studios as so many of his peers were. Lancaster could pick and choose his own projects and how they were brought to the screen. He harbored dreams of becoming a full-time director and stated publicly that he intended to retire from acting in order to fulfill this fantasy. So far, so good. However, Lancaster, who was never lacking in confidence or ego, managed to alienate seemingly everyone in his orbit by making disparaging remarks about directors and their profession in general. This didn't sit well with those he offended and Lancaster was denied entry into the Director's Guild of America when it came to helming his first film, an adaptation of Felix Holt's frontier novel "The Gabriel Horn", which he was bringing to the big screen in Technicolor and CinemaScope under the title "The Kentuckian". Lancaster had lined up some top-rate talent for the production, which was the first of a multi-picture distribution deal with United Artists. Acclaimed Western novelist A.B. Guthrie Jr. was the screenwriter, the esteemed Laszlo Kovacs was the cinematographer and Bernard Herrmann was the composer. This was a fairly big-budget production that eschewed Hollywood's penchant for studio-bound sets and stock photography in favor of actually filming on location in rural Kentucky.
The story opens with Elias Wakefield (Lancaster), a widowed backwoodsman and his young son Little Eli (Donald MacDonald) as they gleefully march through remote wooded areas in Kentucky heading toward a far-away river where they intend to ride an elegant steam ship to a new life in Texas. The promise of vast land and unlimited potential is too much for Elias to resist and he's scrimped and saved up $200 for the passenger fare aboard the boat. He also wants to put some distance between him and Little Eli and two members of a clan that have been carrying on a long feud with the Wakefields and who are intent on tracking down and killing Elias. Things go awry when they reach a town where the locals are anything but friendly. Elias is framed for a crime and jailed. The corrupt locals intend to allow him to be killed by the would-be assassins who have arrived in town. Elias is saved by Hannah (Dianne Foster), a lovely young woman who is suffering as an indentured servant to a cruel owner of a tavern. She frees Elias and joins him and his son as they flee towards the freedom Texas offers. Along the way, they are captured by lawmen and Elias has to use his life savings to buy Hannah's "contract" out with her employer. Although Elias treats Hannah with sisterly respect, it's clear she has romantic designs on him that she keeps subdued. Upon arriving in another town to visit Elias's brother Zack (John McInintire) and his wife Sophie (Una Merkel), the trio finds the new locale not much friendlier than their last encounter with civilization. Although they are warmly greeted by Zack and Sophie, the rest of the local population mocks them as unsophisticated hicks. Because they are destitute, Elias has to go into Zack's career as a tobacco seller where he finds unexpected success. Hannah, however, finds herself back in servitude with yet another cruel tavern owner, Bodine (Walter Matthau in his big screen debut). Elias enrolls his son in school for the first time and manages to fall for his teacher, Susie (Diana Lynn), who returns the sentiment. As their love affair grows, Elias alienates his own son, who accuses his father of dashing their plans to move to Texas. Also alienated is Hannah, who suffers in silence while the man she loves romances another woman. Things come to a head when Elias has a knock-down brawl with Bodine, whose penchant for wielding a bullwhip exacts a terrible toll on him. Then the killers from the rival clan show up and lay in wait to assassinate Elias.
"The Kentuckian" was not the great success Burt Lancaster had hoped for. Critics were anemic if not downright cynical about the film with Bosley Crowther of the New York Times mocking it mercilessly. When the movie under-performed, Lancaster uncharacteristically went public with his frustrations at the magnitude of work it took to both star in and direct the film. He ate considerable crow and said he underestimated how much talent it took to direct a movie, thereby winning him favor with a profession he had previously offended. (Lancaster's only other directing credit is as co-director of the 1974 crime thriller "The Midnight Man". ) Although "The Kentuckian" has plenty of corny and predictable elements to it, the film is reasonably good entertainment. Lancaster, who was always among the most charismatic of leading men, delivers a solid performance and he is aided by an able cast of leading ladies and fine character actors. Young Donald MacDonald gives an impressive performance as his son and Matthau, who would later denounce the role he played as ludicrous, is nevertheless a suitable villain in the Snidley Whiplash mode. The cinematography is very good, though the movie does feature some of the worst "day for night" effects imaginable. Scenes that are set in the dead of night are presented in bright sunshine. Bernard Herrmann's score is appropriately rousing and the film features some good action sequences. Perhaps the most under-valued aspect of the movie is its intelligent screenplay which presents the characters with engaging back stories and dilemmas. Lancaster chose to stress the human side of the story instead of spectacle and violence.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks great and contains the trailer along with a welcome gallery of other trailers pertaining to Lancaster movies.
As one might expect from any 1960’s James
Bond pastiche, an assortment of cool spy gadgetry is on display in Franklin
Adreon’s Dimension 5 (1966): microchips
secreted in the rear compartment of a Bulova wristwatch, a poison dart firing
pen, an exploding briefcase, and a cool bullet-firing point-and-shoot 35mm
camera. If that’s not enough – and with
possible exception of the invisible car from Die Another Day (2002) - Dimension
5 offers us one of the more ridiculous and dubious items found in any secret
agent arsenal… a “time-convertor” belt.
We’re first introduced to this device during
the film’s mildly exciting pre-credits sequence. In the first few minutes we’re treated to
what one expects from a nifty ‘60s spy thriller: a bit of a car chase, a
surprising punch-to-the mouth of a double-crossing Asian villainess and a
swooping helicopter rescue. What we do
not anticipate is agent Justin Power’s (Jeffrey Hunter) unusual means of escape
from the clutches of his pursuers. If
trapped by enemy spies, agent Powers’ need only activate the power ring on his
index finger. The ring sends a signal to
the time-convertor waist belt and instantaneously whisks him from harm’s way. This is, alas, a bit of a cop-out; a too
convenient plot device that – literally - sweeps the good guys from the forces
of evil with little suspense or effort. If
it’s any consolation, we later learn that over-use of the time-convertor belt carries
an element of danger. There is one
chance in one hundred that the user might be transported into the past or future
with no possibility of a return to the present.
Having recently watched director Adreon’s
sleepy and unsatisfying Cyborg 2087,
I must admit approaching Dimension 5
with low expectation. Happily, my fear
was unfounded as the team at United Pictures Corp. managed to cobble together a
reasonably viable 60s’ spy thriller chock full of the genre’s stock
accoutrements. Screenplay duties were
handled by Arthur C. Pierce, more noted for his contributions to
science-fiction films than espionage tales. Pierce’s “original” screenplay borrows freely from the James Bond EON
playbook, especially that of Goldfinger
(1964) which was then a recent blockbuster Though the set designs of art
director Paul Sylos for Cyborg 2087
were not only unimaginative but practically non-existent, he manages to redeem
himself on Dimension 5. His martini-cool design of the multi-level
combination office-control room-wet bar at Espionage,
Inc. is a perfect example of 60’s lounge elegance. Cinematographer Alan Stensvold’s work here is
also measurably glossier than demonstrated in Cyborg 2087. Though Paul
Dunlap’s score is serviceable, it’s not particularly memorable. His soundtrack features no musical cues or bravado
fanfares worthy of James Bond’s John Barry or of Matt Helm Messrs. Bernstein,
Montenegro or Schifrin.
In still another tip-of-the-hat to the cash
cow Bond film formula, Dimension 5
offers us both an ersatz “M” (Donald Woods as “Kane”) and an ersatz “Q” (Jon
Lormer as “the Professor”). This is
alternate-universe, “bizarro world” Bond. If James Bond’s cover was that as an agent of Universal Exports, Justin
Power’s converse cover is that of an associate of California Imports, Inc. There are some Playboy-era woeful, groan-producing double entendres sprinkled
throughout. Boss Kane and agent Powers
engage in a bit of locker room talk when the spy lustily describes female
fellow agent Ki Ti Tsu (aka “Kitty”) (actress France Nuyen) as a “penetrating
study.” Kane lasciviously concurs with
his agent’s assessment and – obviously ignoring the parameters of Espionage, Inc. policies on sexual
harassment – tells Powers to “school” his standoffish new partner on “a
horizontal curve.” Wink, wink.
Powers and Kitty’s mission is to search out the
feared and secretive underworld figure known alternately as both “Mr. B” and
“Big Buddha.” “Mr. B” is, perhaps
unsurprisingly, portrayed by none other than Harold Sakata, (yes, Oddjob himself), the iconic henchman to
Gert Fröbe’s Goldfinger. “Mr. B” is, as explained,
an unpleasant and unreasonable sort of fellow. His dossier claims him as the former head of Peking’s secret police as
well as the leader of a sinister crime syndicate known throughout the
underworld as the Dragon Organization. The Hong Kong office of the good guys
suspects the Dragons are planning a major terrorist operation. It’s in this belief that they’re holding one person-of-interest
in custody, the belligerent and uncooperative Mr. Chang (Gerald Jann). “Mr. B” is, perhaps, the ultimate Scrooge: we
learn he’s threatening to ruin everyone’s favorite winter holiday by destroying
all of Los Angeles via a Christmas Day Hydrogen Bomb attack. Just as Goldfinger smuggled in the components
of two “atomic devices” into the U.S. via a series of couriers, so has Big
Buddha brought in the various machineries to assemble his H-Bomb.
If Goldfinger’s scheme was to wreck the U.S.
and world economies by radiating the gold supply of Fort Knox, Big Buddha’s
scheme – described here as a “fantastic red plot” and also, not coincidentally,
orchestrated by Chinese Communists – is a call for the removal of all Allied
forces from Southeast Asia. Mr. B’s more
political and personally less pocket-lining threat is not an empty one. His warehouse on a waterfront pier is already
stockpiled with the necessary canisters of deadly Unranium-238, brought in undetected
via a Japanese freighter and secreted in satchels of imported rice.
stylish Western “Da Uomo a Uomo” (“Man to Man”), written by Luciano Vincenzoni
and directed by Giulio Petroni, opened in Italy in 1967. Two years later, it reached American theaters
as “Death Rides a Horse.” In the film,
bandits attack a relay station at the Mesita Ranch where an express wagon carrying
$200,000 has stopped for the night to wait out a pounding rainstorm. After killing the guards, the four leaders of
the gang glimpse two women -- the ranch owner’s wife and daughter -- inside the
house. They invade the home, gun down
the rancher, rape and shoot the two women, and set fire to the place before
riding off with their loot. The only
survivor of the massacre is the family’s eight-year-old son, pulled from the
burning wreckage of the house by an unknown benefactor.
years later, now grown, the orphaned Bill (John Philip Law) lives alone at the
rebuilt cabin and practices obsessively with six-guns and rifles, hoping for a
chance to find the murderers and settle the score. Meanwhile, released from prison after
completing a fifteen-year sentence, an ex-convict named Ryan (Lee Van Cleef) rides into the
territory. He encounters Bill, briefly, when he stops by
the ranch to pause over the graves of the three people buried there. “I heard about it some time ago -- I’m
sorry,” he tells the young man mysteriously. Afterward, in town, two gunmen try to ambush Ryan in his hotel room, but
the ex-convict outwits and outshoots them. The sheriff, investigating, recognizes the spurs worn by one of the dead
men: they match one that hangs in Bill’s cabin, lost by one of the outlaws
outside the burning ranch years before. “Fifteen years, there’s been no new track, only a spur,” Bill tells
Ryan. “Then you come along, and there’s
three spurs.” It transpires that Ryan is
chasing his former partners in crime, who double-crossed him and left him to
serve time at hard labor. When he leaves
town, Bill follows, suspecting that his prey and Ryan’s are the same.
Rides a Horse” follows the template of Sergio Leone’s “For a Few Dollars More”
or “Per Qualche Dollaro in Più” (1965), which was also written by Luciano
Vincenzoni, in its structure of an older gunman and a younger one who form a
mutually respectful but shaky partnership to chase a common quarry. The teamwork has its advantages, but each
character has his own motivation for the chase, and ultimately each one strives
to reach his objective first, before the other. Vincenzoni’s script even recycles several other characters and
situations from his earlier storyline for the Leone movie, including Bill’s
fragmented, red-tinged flashbacks to the massacre. But the key differences between the two
pictures are as striking as the similarities, and “Death Rides a Horse” stands
nicely on its own merits. Like Clint
Eastwood’s bounty hunter Manco in the Leone film, John Philip Law’s Bill is
blond-haired and fast on the draw, but he’s also younger and less experienced
-- an amateur at manhunting, not a professional. This places him in stronger contrast to Van
Cleef’s steely and vaguely tragic rival and mentor, underscored by Ennio
Morricone’s signature themes for the characters: a mournful dirge that
represents the lingering trauma of the Mesita murders, a measured guitar and
drum tune symbolizing Ryan’s determination to find his former partners, and a
dissonant “vengeance” theme with a tortured flute solo. Where the enemy in Leone’s film was an
outsider on the American frontier, a depraved, dark-skinned bandit of mixed
Mexican and Indian parentage, the masterminds sought by Ryan and Bill have
burrowed into polite society and have become outwardly respectable business and
political leaders. Cavanaugh (the
wonderfully sleazy Anthony Dawson) runs a popular saloon and gambling
house. Walcott (Luigi Pistilli) is a
trusted town father. Ryan’s reappearance
inspires Walcott to use this advantage to pull off an even bigger score than
the Mesita Ranch heist. The conceit of
criminals masquerading as civic leaders would reappear in many later Italian
Westerns. In real life, as we all know,
crooks and opportunists rarely wind up as figures of power in commerce or
Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition of “Death Rides a Horse” presents Petroni’s film in
a sharp 1.85:1, 1920x1080p edition. The
image isn’t perfect (some graininess is apparent, especially in the dark
nighttime scenes); nevertheless, it relegates decades of substandard TV and
budget-video prints to the trash heap. The bonus features include English and Italian language options,
subtitles, perceptive running commentary by filmmaker and critic Alex Cox, and
trailers for other Italian Westerns from Kino Lorber, including a forthcoming,
remastered BRD of “For a Few Dollars More.” While we’re on the subject, here’s hoping that someone will produce
comparably good widescreen, hi-def U.S. editions of Petroni’s somber Zapata
Western “Tepepa” (1969) and Vincenzoni’s playful gangster film “Mean Frank and
Crazy Tony” (1973), with Lee Van Cleef as a seasoned mafioso and Tony LoBianco
as his admiring, younger disciple.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Acorn Media.
season of the smash hit U.K. dramedy, plus over 1.5 hours of bonus content;
Martin Clunes (Arthur & George) and Caroline Quentin (Men Behaving Badly)
stars Sigourney Weaver (Aliens, Avatar), Art Malik (True Lies, Homeland),
Blu-ray Debut from Acorn on December 12, 2017
gentle comedy with loads of wit and zest” —The Globe and Mail
stirring, and completely addictive” —Slate
quirky” —Los Angeles Times
bloody hilarious” —London Evening Standard
considered one of the most successful British series in the U.S., U.K. and
worldwide, DOC MARTIN, Series 8 makes its DVD/Blu-ray debut on December 12,
2017 from Acorn TV, an RLJ Entertainment, Inc. (NASDAQ: RLJE) brand. Martin
Clunes (Men Behaving Badly) returns as Dr. Martin Ellingham in the eighth
series of this smash-hit British comedy. In these all-new episodes, the doctor
continues his practice in the picturesque seaside town of Portwenn, while
raising his son with wife Louisa. The DVD and Blu-ray 3-Disc Sets feature 8
episodes, plus a bonus disc with behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews
their ups and downs as a couple, Dr. Martin Ellingham and his wife, Louisa (Caroline
Catz, Murder in Suburbia), are finally living together with their son, James
Henry, but their problems are far from over. With Louisa’s encouragement, James
Henry has grown attached to Buddy the dog, but Martin is disgusted by the
four-legged friend. In need of a new nanny, Louisa finds herself juggling too
many responsibilities and considers switching careers, causing a rift with Martin.
Portwenn is abuzz as the residents prepare for a wedding. The Larges hope to
profit from the festivities, but when Martin’s aunt Ruth (Emmy® winner Eileen
Atkins, Cranford) considers selling the family farm, her decision causes
trouble for their business endeavors. As some relationships bloom and others
falter, can Martin cope with all the changes—or will he risk the fragile accord
he’s forged with his family? Guest stars in Series 8 include the return of Caroline
Quentin (Dickensian) and Sigourney Weaver (Avatar) as a forthright American
tourist anxious for the Doc’s time.
BONUS DISC: Behind-the-scenes
featurettes on the production process (70 min.) and interviews with the cast
and guest stars (41 min.), including Martin Clunes, Caroline Catz, Ian McNeice,
Joe Absolom, Eileen Atkins, Selina Cadell, and Caroline Quentin.
December 12, 2017 SRP: $39.99 each
Set: 8 episodes – Approx. 413 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles – UPC
3-Disc Set: 8 episodes – Approx. 413 min., plus bonus – SDH Subtitles – UPC
Kudos to the Warner Archive for its release of the 1955 crime thriller "Hell on Frisco Bay" in the Blu-ray format. The movie had been only seen in scratchy, pan-and-scan versions over the decades and it was presumed that the original camera negative had been lost. However, that was remedied when the camera negative was eventually located and subjected to a painstaking restoration. Since the movie doesn't have the resonance of more famous crime titles, the Warner Archive deserves praise from retro movie fans for putting the effort and expense into restoring this title. Complicating matters were some messy rights issues that also had to be dealt with.
The movie opens with Steve Rollins (Alan Ladd) being released from a San Francisco prison after serving time for a murder of a gangster that he was framed for. He's greeted by his wife Marcia (Joanne Dru), but he cruelly rebuffs her. Seems that while in stir, Rollins completely ignored her and refused to allow her to visit him or communicate with him in any way. His only advice to her was to get on with creating a life without him. Several years into his incarceration, she did just that. However, when Rollins learns that Marcia had a brief fling with another man, his male ego is damaged and the grudge extends to him simply wanting to collect his clothes from their home and move into a boarding house, which he does. He later explains to his former police colleague Dan Bianco (William Demarest) that there is an alternate reason for his harsh rejection of his wife: he wants to immediately set out to track down the killer who framed him and he doesn't want her to become a target of the mob. (Although it's never explained why he simply doesn't advise Marcia of this concern.) Rollins knows the murder he was framed for took place under orders from local crime kingpin Victor Amato (Edward G. Robinson, strangely billed on the movie posters as "Edw. G. Robinson"), who has a lock on business done on the local docks. He's a true sociopath without the slightest sentiment for even his most loyal colleagues. When Rollins confronts him, the situation becomes a cat-and-mouse game of who can eliminate who before the truth behind the murder is known. A compelling subplot has Rollins and Marica slowly becoming more civil to each other, as Marcia carries on with her career as a popular torch singer in a local nightclub. The script also centers on another interesting relationship concerning Joe Lye (Paul Stewart) and his girlfriend Kay Stanley (Fay Wray), a once-popular movie star who has fallen into obscurity. Joe was on death row when Amato used bribes and influence to get him released from prison. Amato reminds him of this every day and make is clear that he can put Joe back on death row if he doesn't slavishly carry out all of his orders. Things get sticky when Amato's penchant for humiliating Joe extends to trying to seduce Kay. As the action unfolds, Rollins interacts with this strange group of characters along with other mob underlings as he obsessively tries to clear his name. The film ends with him going mano a mano with Amato in an action-packed sequence set in a speedboat in San Francisco bay.
The movie, based on a novel, was produced for Alan Ladds production company and he hired director Frank Tuttle to helm the film. The two had previously collaborated on Ladd's breakthrough hit "This Gun for Hire". Despite the impressive Cinemascope and short-lived Warnercolor values, "Hell on Frisco Bay" still resembles an old-fashioned black-and-white film noir. It boasts an intelligent script, interesting characters and very impressive performances. Ladd is in his typical "quiet tough guy" mode and he allows the supporting characters to get the lion's share of the memorable screen moments. Top of the list is Edward G. Robinson, who is in great form, dispensing insults and cruel witticisms against everyone in his orbit. Paul Stewart gives one of his finest performances as the reluctant mobster who has sacrificed his self-respect for his freedom. The two female leads are also excellent in strongly-written roles, with Fay Wray particularly impressive in what was deemed to be a comeback role. The film zips along at a brisk pace under Tuttle's inspired direction until the exciting conclusion. It's all set to a typically impressive Max Steiner score.
The most impressive aspect of this release is the transfer the Warner Archive put so much effort into. It's truly superb on every level. The colors practically leap from the screen and the sheer brilliance of the picture is reason enough to add this one to your collection. The Blu-ray contains the original trailer.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Kino Lorber continues to produce special edition Blu-rays of obscure titles that are under most movie fans' radar screens. Case in point: "Nightkill", a little-remembered thriller made in 1980 for theatrical release but which ultimately "premiered" on television, much to the consternation of all involved. Ironically, the movie has the look and feel of a TV production with the notable difference of some disturbing images that were probably edited down for broadcast standards. Thus, the Kino Lorber edition is probably the first opportunity to see the original cut of the film, as it apparently was not released to theaters. The plot is "Diabolique" by way of Alfred Hitchcock. Jaclyn Smith, then riding high from her long-running role as one of Charlie's Angels, is cast as Katherine Atwell, a socialite living in Phoenix and living what appears to be a charmed life. She resides in a hilltop mansion and is the toast of the town because of a charitable foundation she has founded. There is one major caveat: her husband Wendell (Mike Connors) is a boorish rich snob with a violent temper who enjoys demeaning everyone in his circle of influence. He is particularly tough on his long-suffering corporate major domo Steve Fulton (James Franciscus), who must endure Wendell's cynical comments and outbursts. Katherine has come to hate her husband. Their marriage is a loveless one based on mutual convenience: he gets a trophy wife he can parade around as arm candy and she gets a lavish lifestyle and funding for her charity. However, she is frustrated by her loveless, sexless marriage and has taken up a secret torrid affair with Steve Fulton. One sunny afternoon, Katherine, Steve and Wendell are gathered in the Atwell's living room. Steve makes a drink for his boss, who promptly keels over and dies a painful death. Without having given Katherine any advance warning, Steve had poisoned Wendell. He tells the understandably panicky Katherine of his game plan: they will secrete Wendell's body in a large freezer inside the house, then collect a briefcase containing a million dollars that is being stored at an airport locker and fly off to another country so they can live the high life together. Katherine is tempted to alert the authorities, but ultimately decides to go along with Steve's plan. She soon regrets it. When Steve doesn't show up for their planned getaway, Katherine begins to worry. She goes through the arduous task of disposing of her husband's body in an abandoned mine shaft but later believes she sees him alive in various places. In the film's only absurd scene, a car that appears to be driven by her dead husband pursues her in a dangerous chase that she narrowly escapes from. It gets worse. When she opens the freezer that once held her husband's body, she gets another shocking surprise that I won't reveal here. Adding to the pressure is a bothersome detective (Robert Mitchum) who shows up at awkward times and asks increasingly awkward questions about her husband's whereabouts.
"Nightkill" was directed by Ted Post, a seasoned pro when it came to helming undistinguished-but-entertaining fare both on television and in feature films. (His best theatrical films were "Hang 'Em High", "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" and "Magnum Force".) Post was primarily at home in the television medium and perhaps that's why the movie has the look and feel of a TV production. Post didn't believe in artsy camera shots or other gimmicks. He shot in a basic style that didn't allow for distractions from the action on screen. He milks some suspense out of a sometimes cliched script that borrows too much from other sources. "Nightkill" may be middling in some aspects but it does take some unexpected turns concerning the motivations of the main characters. Jaclyn Smith gives an outstanding performance as the harried and distressed protagonist. The film is sprinkled with other interesting actors and performances. Mike Connors excels at playing against his good guy image as a rotten lout, Fritz Weaver has an unusually flamboyant character to play as a snobby lawyer who has the hots for Katherine, even though he is married to her best friend (Sybil Danning in a role that refreshingly doesn't require her to doff her clothes). Mitchum is his usual cool-as-a-cucumber self as the detective who may or may not be who he claims to be. The Arizona locations are a refreshing change of pace and the film keeps a zesty pace under Post's direction, right up until the rather surprising ending which some viewers may find unsatisfying. The most memorable scene involves yet another "woman in the shower in jeopardy" scene but with a disturbing twist that doesn't involve anyone attacking her.
Universal has released a highly impressive Blu-ray set, "The Alfred Hitchcock Collection", on Blu-ray. The set contains fifteen special editions of the Master's top films as well as ten original episodes of "The Alfred Hitchcock Presents" television series. The set is packed with 15 hours of bonus extras and includes an illustrated, 58-page collector's booklet with extremely rare international poster art and film stills. Films included in the set are:
North by Northwest
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 version)
Shadow of a Doubt
The Trouble with Harry
Holiday gifts like this don't get any more impressive (or sinister) for the movie lover in your life.
I have a confession to make. In the unlikely event I’m put in a time
machine, sent back to the late spring/early summer of 1969 and given a free
pass to only one of two films presently showing at the local twinplex – the
choices being Stanley Kubricks’s 2001: a
Space Odyssey or Kinji Fukasaku’s The
Green Slime… Well, I admit with some degree of shame and embarrassment that
I would choose The Green Slime. I do not doubt for a moment the superiority,
intellectualism or visual majesty of the former over the latter. But I was eight and a half years old in the
summer of 1969 when my parents took me to 2001:
A Space Odyssey and I confess I was pretty much bored to tears. Arthur Clarke’s scenario was too obtuse for
my grade-school comprehension; the pacing of the film was funeral, the opening
bit with the apes and the obelisk bewildering. The outer space stuff, I admit, was pretty cool.
In any case, it was The
Green Slime and not 2001 that was
the talk of the school back in 1969. It
must be said that MGM marketed the film pretty aggressively. The campaign book for The Green Slime suggested theater-owners invest in the ballyhoo package
they had masterfully assembled, an over-the-top promotional “Go-Get ‘em Fright
Kit.” These kits included “1000 Galling Green Bumper Stickers, 2 Eye Catching,
Teeth-Gnashing Stencils, 2000 Greasy, Goggling, High-Camp Pop-Art Buttons in
Basic Gripping Green, and 250 Ghastly, Ghoulish, Gelatinous Green Slimes in Guaranteed to Nauseate
the Nefarious.” MGM also issued a 45rpm
record of the gnarly rock and roll song celebrating The Green Slime, causing all - of a certain age, at least - to
twist the volume knob to high on our AM radios.
If that wasn’t enough to piqué interest (and it was), the
film campaign also featured one of the greatest one-sheet movie posters I had
ever seen – perhaps, still one of the greatest. The closest I got to own a copy was when I skipped down to the local
tobacco and stationary store and picked up the September 1969 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. There in the racks was that month’s cover
girl in all of her 1960’s pop-art movie poster glory: a frightened Luciana
Paluzzi in a clear fishbowl space helmet struggling against the tentacle of a
giant, feral one-eyed space monster. True,
the poster would bear no relation to anything that actually would happen in the film, but that’s beside
the point. The fact is if you were a
dedicated, erudite reader of Film Comment
or American Cinematographer then 2001: A Space Odyssey was indisputably
the science-fiction film of the year. If
you were between the ages of 8-21 and a faithful reader of comic books and
monster magazines, The Green Slime
was the bomb… a “bomb” in the good way, of course.
In June of 1969, every American kid was already talking
about outer space. Though shot in 1968
at Toei Studios, Tokyo, Japan, The Green
Slime opened mid-week near my home just across the Hudson River from
Manhattan, on May 21, 1969. In less than
two month’s time, two of the three astronauts on NASA’s Apollo 11 mission would
walk on the surface of the moon for the first time in recorded history. The promotional department at MGM took every
advantage of public interest in the space-craze. Weeks following the film’s initial release - and
a mere month prior to the much anticipated NASA moon walk - the black and white
newspaper slicks for The Green Slime would
feature a new banner draped across the top of the ad copy: “Lunar Contamination Worries Washington: Will future moon landings expose our
astronauts to strange germs that could grow… AND GROW… into THE GREEN SLIME?”
In The Green Slime
actor Robert Horton plays Commander Jack Rankin, a neither particularly warm
nor likable character, but a guy with a reputation for getting things
done. He’s brought out of retirement by
an officer at the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) who pleads for his
cooperation in a time-sensitive demolition job. It seems as though there’s a six million ton asteroid, nickname Flora, hurtling directly in a trajectory
toward planet Earth. At its present rate
of speed, the asteroid will collide with the planet in approximately ten hours
time, so it’s pretty imperative that Commander Rankin get to work
The crusty astronaut is rocketed to the circular and
tubular Gamma 3 space station where
he and a small team will board yet another spacecraft and shuttle over to the
surface of the asteroid. They intend
blow the asteroid from its current trajectory through the use of a few
relatively small explosives. This
mission is accomplished, pretty handily I might add, but the real trouble starts
to brew when a small specimen of the asteroid’s green slime attaches itself to
the pants leg of one astronaut and is inadvertently transported back to C Block
of Gamma 3. The green slime soon begins to reproduce and
morph from the primordial ooze of its original state to a shuffling, green
fire-hydrant shaped creature with deep-recessed red eyes. Their long and groping tentacles electrocute any
hapless victim who happens to stumble across their whereabouts.
There are also some inter-personal fireworks aboard Gamma 3 when we learn that Rankin and the
ship’s Commander Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel) don’t particularly care for
one another. For starters, Elliott is
poised to marry the voluptuous Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi), a beauty who
walks about the starship in a stylish silver lamè suit and was, apparently, a
jilted paramour of Commander Rankin. It’s difficult to determine why Paluzzi would have – now or at any other
time - any romantic interest in Rankin. While husband-to-be Vince Elliott might have his own testosterone-fueled
problems to work through, he comes off as someone you might enjoy having a beer
with. Conversely, and despite his
sun-tanned skin, chiseled profile, and sculptured brush of spray matted hair, Horton’s
Rankin is positively humorless and uncharismatic. He appears in the personage of a terminally
dour game show host.
Although it picked up significant honors at European film festivals, director Giuseppe Tornatore's 2013 indie drama/mystery "The Best Offer" only received limited release in art houses in North American and UK theaters and thus remains virtually unknown by most movie fans. It's a pity because Tornatore, the director of the much-revered "Cinema Paradiso", has fashioned a brilliant and mesmerizing film that achieves something rare in the modern movie industry: a highly original and offbeat concept. It's a movie packed with plots and subplots, eccentric characters and an increasingly fascinating mystery. In fact, the movie's many surprises also precludes me from providing all but bare bones details because to do otherwise would inevitably spoil some key plot points. Geoffrey Rush plays Virgil Oldman, a revered and highly celebrated figure in the upscale international art auction market. When Virgil presides over a sale of rare paintings, the art community pays special attention. His success has afforded him an opulent lifestyle. He lives in a plush apartment, dines at the best restaurants and seems to have a sizable bank account. However, Virgil is also a miserable, solitary figure who finds that his sense of narcissism has left him alienated and without any significant others in his life. He has only one person who can be regarded as somewhat of a friend: Billy Whistler, (Donald Sutherland), a failed artist but fellow lover of fine art, who conspires with Virgil in an audacious series of schemes. When obscure but potentially very valuable works come up in the auctions that Virgil orchestrates, he downplays their worth and has Billy act as a shill bidder. When the work is acquired for a relatively cheap price, Virgil takes possession and gives Billy a sizable fee for his part in the scheme. The only true joy Virgil derives from life takes place in an opulent hidden room in his spacious apartment (exactly where the film is set remains vague...at some points it appears to be London, at others times it might be Italy). Here, Virgil sits for hours sipping fine wine and silently admires the massive number of paintings he has acquired over the years. These inanimate objects act as his friends, family and lovers.
One day a seemingly routine phone call alters Virgil's in a dramatic way. A young woman, Claire (Sylvia Hoekes), calls him to say that she has recently inherited a house from her deceased parents and that it is filled with various works of art, some of which she suspects might be worth substantial sums. She asks if he will visit the house and evaluate them for potential auction pieces. When Virgil gets to the house, he finds it a shambles. Not only that, but the young woman isn't there to greet him. He recognizes some intriguing pieces among the rubbish but repeated attempts to meet with the woman fail, much to his frustration. The handyman employed at the house informs Virgil that he has worked there for years and has never seen her. She stays in touch with him by phone but eventually explains that he will never see her in the flesh because she suffers from a phobia that precludes her from leaving the solitude of her room if anyone else is in the house. Virgil becomes fascinated by the scenario and continues to make visits to the house, ostensibly to evaluate artwork but in reality, he is also accumulating pieces of a mysterious object that he hopes to have constructed in the expectation it might be quite valuable. He sneaks pieces out as he finds them and brings them to a young man, Robert (Jim Sturgess) who is undertaking the arduous task of trying to match up the odd pieces to make a coherent whole. Meanwhile, Virgil becomes increasingly obsessed by the elusive young woman who continues to avoid meeting with him even when they are both in the house at the same time. When they do ultimately meet, Virgil finds the obscure object of his desire is a beautiful young woman who is suffering from a severe form of agoraphobia. This is when the story kicks into high gear as Virgil becomes a combination father figure and would-be lover- all the while unable to control his obsession with her.
I will not reveal more about this strange, highly complex story line except to say that it consistently veers in directions you never expect, introducing plot elements that are thoroughly engrossing and which are matched only by the central characters, who are richly drawn by by director Tornatore, who also wrote the compelling screenplay. As the film progresses, it builds in suspense and will make you play a guessing game in your mind regarding what everyone's motives may be. The performances are uniformly superb with Geoffrey Rush nothing less than brilliant as the unlikable, yet somewhat sympathetic protagonist. Had the film received wider distribution, he undoubtedly would have received an Oscar nomination. Donald Sutherland in a key supporting role is also marvelous as is the cast of talented young actors. Kudos also to cinematographer Fabio Zamarion and production designer Maurizio Sabatini for their outstanding achievements on this production.
"The Best Offer" leads to a shattering conclusion that you may not see coming. It's a terrific movie and one of the best indie films I've seen in years. The DVD boasts a fine transfer but unfortunately is not a special edition. The only bonus feature is the trailer.
The Warner Archive has released the 1965 comedy "The Rounders" on Blu-ray. The film is primarily notable for the teaming of Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda, two estimable Hollywood stars who could be relied upon to play convincingly in both dark, somber dramas and frolicking comedies. "The Rounders" was directed and written by Burt Kennedy, who adapted a novel from by Max Evans. Kennedy was a veteran of big studio productions who worked his way from screenwriter to director. If he never made any indisputable classics, it can be said that he made a good many films that were top-notch entertainment. Among them: "Support Your Local Sheriff", "The War Wagon", "Hannie Caulder" and "The Train Robbers". While Westerns were Kennedy's specialty, he did have a prestigious achievement with his screenplay for Clint Eastwood's woefully underseen and under-praised 1990 film "White Hunter, Black Heart". It's not an insult to state that most of Kennedy's directorial efforts could be considered lightweight. They were not concerned with social issues and generally had a Hawksian emphasis on heroes who engaged in good-natured bantering ("The War Wagon" is the best example of this.) Those elements are in full display in "The Rounders" but the film never rises above the status of resembling an extended episode of a TV sitcom from the era. That isn't meant as a knock, considering how many good TV sitcoms were on the airwaves in 1965, but there is a rather lazy element to the production and one would be suspects that an old pro like Kennedy probably knocked off the script over a long lunch.
The film, set in contemporary Arizona, finds Ford and Fonda playing Ben Jones and "Howdy" Lewis (his real name is Marion, but he's too ashamed to admit it, which is a nice inside joke aimed at Fonda's old pal John Wayne, whose real name was Marion Morrison.) The two are middle-aged wranglers who make ends meet by "breaking" and taming wild horses. It's a rough-and-tumble profession that inevitably results in them being tossed around like rag dolls as they ride atop bucking broncos. However, Ben and "Howdy" are still the best in their profession, although their meager wages have left them with no tangible assets beyond a beaten-up pickup truck. Local land baron Jim Ed Love (Chill Wills) hires them to spend the winter in a dilapidated cabin in the mountains in order to round up stray horses and keep them safe until spring. The assignment means enduring harsh weather and complete isolation, but the pair need the money so they accept. Since Fonda and Ford are the stars, there's no chance of this evolving into a "Brokeback Mountain" scenario and the two spend time gazing at a poster that depicts a ridiculously sanitized hula girl, a symbol of Ben's long-time dream of moving to a tropical island. Much of the script centers on their trials and tribulations in attempting to break a particularly rebellious roan horse that defies conforming to their commands. It gets personal with Ben, who decides that at the end of winter, he will buy the horse from Love for the simple pleasure of taking him to a soap factory. The two men survive the winter and head off (with roan horse in tow) to the big rodeo, a stop they make every year in order to supplement their income by winning bucking bronco riding contests. Along they way they have a chance encounter with two sisters who happen to be exotic dancers (Sue Ane Langdon and Hope Holiday). They are amiable bubbleheads but after the men have been in the mountains sans female companionship for many months, they can't resist attempting to woo them. The family-friendly screenplay is quite timid when it comes to depicting adult sexual behavior. Ben and "Howdy" are understandably enticed by the vivacious sisters but they seem satiated by inducing them to join them in a moonlight skinny-dipping session, which is interrupted by a police raid. The climax finds the two partners attempting to use the unbreakable roan horse as a gimmick to lure local wranglers and riders to bet money they can best him. There's a bit of a con in their scheme, but as one might suspect, their plans go awry and they don't benefit from any ill-gotten gains. As you might also suspect, the roan horse earns Ben's respect and never makes it to that dreaded soap factory.
That's pretty much the entire plot of "The Rounders", which is lightweight enough to resemble a celluloid wisp of smoke. If it's never boring, it's also never very engaging, as we keep expecting the script to provide some kind of creative or engaging plot device that never arrives. Still, it has its pleasures and Fonda and Ford exude real chemistry that elevates the proceedings substantially. There is also the wonder of the magnificent Arizona locations, a jaunty musical score by Jeff Alexander and a marvelous cast of reliable and familiar character actors that, in addition to the incomparible Chill Wills, includes Edgar Buchanan, Kathleen Freeman, Barton MacLane, Doodles Weaver and Denver Pyle.
When the film was released, even MGM felt the production was rather lacking in commercial appeal. Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris, who gave the film some faint praise, justifiably took issue with the fact that the studio had buried "The Rounders" by placing it at the bottom of a double-feature with a forgettable teeny bopper musical, "Get Yourself a College Girl". He said it must have been depressing for all involved to have a film headlining Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda play second fiddle to a movie that starred Mary Ann Mobley and Nancy Sinatra. He also praised Burt Kennedy, acknowledging that his often estimable contributions to the film business were generally overlooked. Unexpectedly, however, "The Rounders" proved to be a hit in its own right. It drew devoted fans in rural areas and on the drive-in circuit and ended up overshadowing the top-of-the-bill feature. It would even later be made into a television series starring Patrick Wayne, Ron Hayes and Chill Wills, reprising his role from the film.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray does justice to Paul Vogel's impressive cinematography by providing a truly impressive and all-around gorgeous Blu-ray transfer. The release also includes the original trailer.
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for Cordoba,” a 1970 film produced by Vincent M. Fennelly for the Mirisch
Corporation, written by Stephen Kandel, directed by Paul Wendkos, and
distributed by United Artists, has been released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics
in an attractive new Blu-ray edition.In
the movie, U.S. Army Captain Rod Douglas (George Peppard) leads a three-man
team across the Mexican Border in 1916.Douglas has been assigned to gather intelligence on a predatory rebel
general, Cordoba (Raf Vallone), who has confiscated American-owned property in
Mexico.Wealthy U.S. ranchers and
politicians are demanding that the Army secure the border with troops (an
outcry for a $70 billion wall would have to wait another hundred years).After Douglas’ team enters Mexico, one of the
trio, Adam, is captured and tortured to death by Cordoba’s troops.Douglas and the third ranger, Jackson (Don
Gordon), escape to warn Gen. Pershing (John Russell) that Cordoba plans a raid
into Texas to steal six cannon that the Army has transported to the
border.Pershing and his advisors
believe they have the guns safely guarded, but Cordoba and his followers
infiltrate the town and steal the artillery.Pershing directs Douglas to capture Cordoba and disable the cannon.
captain recruits Jackson from the earlier mission and brings in two
trouble-prone but dependable subordinates from the brig. Andy (Pete Duel) has long hair, Woodstock-era
sideburns, a friendly smile, and a guitar slung across his back. Peter (Nico Minardos) wears wire-rimmed
glasses and a studious mien. In Mexico,
the Americans join up with two locals who promise to help them carry out their
mission: Antonio, a Mexican cavalry officer (Gabriele Tinti), and his friend
Leonora (Giovanna Ralli). Leonora had
been raped by Cordoba when the rebel murdered her father and confiscated the
family estate. Now she wants retribution
by helping the Americans nab the ruthless general. Douglas has to contend not only with the
challenge of getting into Cordoba’s mountain-top stronghold in the sierras, but
also with internal strife on his team. Jackson holds a grudge against Douglas for having let Adam -- Jackson’s
brother -- suffer an agonizing death during the previous reconnaissance without
trying to save him. Jackson swears that
he’ll kill Douglas when the current mission is completed. The viewer is periodically reminded of his
oath as, throughout the picture, in Sergio Leone fashion, the embittered
soldier flashes back to Adam being burned alive by Cordoba’s men over an open
for Cordoba” passed briefly through theaters in 1970 with a “GP” rating, the
reverse-lettered precursor to PG. I
vaguely remember seeing the poster at the time. Later, I tended to confuse it with another Peppard Western from the
early ‘70s, “One More Train to Rob,” when the two ran occasionally on local
weekend TV in the 1980s. Cinema Retro’s Lee
Pfeiffer reviewed a 2011 manufactured-on-demand DVD edition HERE. Clearly, “Cannon for Cordoba” was designed to
lure audiences who had turned out in numbers for earlier films about Gringo
adventurers on perilous missions south of the Border, such as “The Magnificent
Seven,” “The Professionals,” and “The Wild Bunch.” Film enthusiasts Howard S. Berger and
Nathaniel Thompson make that point early on, in their lively audio commentary
track on the new Kino Lorber BRD. And
Elmer Bernstein’s score strikes familiar chords from his classic “Magnificent
Seven” theme, for any viewers then or now who might be slow on the uptake. UA gave the release minimal publicity, and at
least four other pictures with similar storylines had already opened in 1970. Even the most dedicated fans of six-guns and
sombreros may already have cried “enough” by the time “Cannon for Cordoba”
appeared on marquees. Had it been
green-lighted a year or two later, it would probably have ended up on a slimmer
budget as a made-for-TV “ABC Movie of the Week,” or with nudity and an R rating
for the drive-in market. The DVD and the
new BRD editions are labeled PG-13.
Paramount Home Media is making retro movie lovers an offer they can't refuse: a special, limited edition deluxe Blu-ray set of the three "Godfather" films complete with some creative extras. "The Godfather Trilogy: Omerta Edition" is limited to only 45,000 sets so make sure you order yours now- or be prepared to sleep with the fishes.
Here is the official description from Paramount:
Celebrating its 45th anniversary, director Francis Ford
Coppola’s THE GODFATHER is widely considered one of the most influential films
in cinematic history. Now the entire epic trilogy will be available on
Blu-ray™ in a spectacular 4-disc Omertà Edition, which includes the
Coppola Restoration of THE GODFATHER and THE GODFATHER, PART II, as well as the
remastered version of THE GODFATHER, PART III.
A stunning gift for any fan, only 45,000 of these limited
edition, numbered sets will be made available beginning November 7, 2017.
THE GODFATHER TRILOGY: OMERTÀ EDITION includes commentary by Coppola on all
three films, a full disc of previously released in-depth special features, as
well as exclusive new collectible Trivia Cards, Magnetic Poetry, an Anatomy of
a Scene fold out and Quote Cards.
When it was released in 1971, director Michael Winner's "Lawman" was regarded as just another western. It did well enough, if unremarkably, at the boxoffice thanks to the drawing power of star Burt Lancaster, but in the end, "Lawman" came and went rather quickly in an era in which the genre was starting to wane a bit. The film represented a new direction for Winner, who had gained attention in the mid-1960s with several quirky comedies that captured the mood of London's emerging "mod" scene. In 1969 Winner landed his first production for a major Hollywood studio with the offbeat WWII comedy/adventure "Hannibal Brooks". He was now mainstream and wanted to try his hands at a diverse subject matters. He proved surprisingly adept at directing at a western, as evidenced by his achievement with "Lawman", which has been released as a Twilight Time Blu-ray limited edition (3,000 units). Winner would seem an unlikely choice for the task. He was of the "To the manor born" crowd, an elitist who inherited enormous wealth and who hobnobbed with London's "A" list crowd. Yet, Winner had a reverence for the American west and captured as well as any other director the look, feel and sensibility of the types of characters who inhabited it.
"Lawman" begins with a group of rowdy cowboys in the employ of uber-rich cattle baron Vincent Bronson (Lee J. Cobb), returning from a grueling cattle drive and letting off some steam by raising hell in a small town they are passing through. Drunk and out-of-control, they supplement their horseplay by randomly firing their pistols, causing some damage to local buildings before returning to Bronson's massive cattle ranch empire. Bronson assumes his men did little more than disturb the peace and shoot out some windows. Neither he or his men are aware that in the confusion, a stray bullet mortally wounded an elderly bystander. They learn this with the arrival in town of Marshal Jarod Maddox (Burt Lancaster), a soft-spoken but fearless lawman empowered by the state to find and arrest the culprits and bring them back to stand trial. Bronson is genuinely disturbed to learn his men had inadvertently caused a death and his first inclination is to take responsibility for it. He is a local kingmaker and is used to writing his own code of justice since he virtually owns all the local townspeople and public officials, who he has appointed to office. He instructs his short-tempered business partner Harvey Stenbaugh (Albert Salmi) to meet with Maddox and offer to pay for all physical damages done as well as offer generous compensation to the victim's family. Harvey is also instructed to blatantly bribe Maddox, who refuses the offer and makes clear he intends to arrest four men he has warrants for. Harvey is one of them and he draws on Maddox but dies in the ensuing gunplay. This sets in motion a war of wills between Maddox and Bronson who makes it clear no one will be standing trial for what he considers to be an innocent mistake. Maddox is determined, however, and begins to track down each of the four men, one of whom is Bronson's brother. Along the way, he reunites with Laura Shelby (Sheree North), a former lover who is now living with one of the wanted men, a coward named Hurd Price (J.D. Cannon), who takes flight upon Maddox's arrival. Laura tries unsuccessfully to persuade Maddox to spare Price and even beds him in an attempt to dissuade him, but Maddox fearlessly and relentlessly pursues his prey.
The most striking aspect of "Lawman", which bore a bland title and uninspired advertising campaign, is the intelligent script by Gerald Wilson. He presents fully-fleshed characters who could easily have been made into caricatures of western movie villains. The unique aspect of the script is that there aren't any traditional villains. The men who committed the crimes are honest, hard-working cow hands who are ashamed and appalled that they have killed a man. Even though Maddox assures them they will probably get a light sentence, they can't spare the time to be away from their ranches because it would cause them financial ruin. As for Cobb's Vincent Bronson, he is not the typical mustache-twirling western bad guy. He's a dictator who buys people's allegiance, but he is a benevolent dictator who has provided good wages and ample respect to the locals and people in his employ. Maddox meets the local sheriff, Cotton Ryan (Robert Ryan), a once-esteemed lawman who has fallen into disgrace and now shamefully acts as a flunky for Bronson. He attempts to persuade Maddox that pursuing his goal of arresting men at the risk of his life will be a fool's errand. Even if he succeeds in bringing them to court, Bronson will bribe the judge and jury. Maddox is about to be won over by this cynical view of life when an unexpected development leads to a violent showdown.
"Lawman" boasts an outstanding cast that includes Robert Duvall, John McGiver, Richard Jordan and Ralph Waite, to name but a few. The performances are all outstanding, as is Winner's direction. The three leads- Lancaster, Cobb and Ryan (reunited with Lancaster after "The Professionals") - are superb. Cinematographer Robert Paynter, a longtime collaborator of Winner's, captures the dust and dry prairies with such skill that you'll feel like having a tall, cold drink mid-way through the movie. (One gripe, though: Paynter has an amateurish fixation on playing with the zoom lens.) The movie also has a typically fine score by Jerry Fielding. The Twilight Time Blu-ray is sans any special features except the trailer, an isolated music score track and the usual excellent collector's booklet with informative notes by Julie Kirgo. The transfer is on par with the usual high quality standards associated with Twilight Time.
"Lawman" may not rank with the great westerns of Ford, Hawks and Sturges but it resonates today as an excellent film in all respects. Highly recommended.